A/N: I'm back! If you wish to know where I've been, check out my profile and/or Facebook page. If not, here is a short blurb of a chapter to hold you over. If you have never heard of Pitt, he was this really feisty little shit who was always in competition with Ed over things like height...and strength...and Winry...and who knows what else. He was in the manga, and I'm 90% sure he's the kid with the farmer when Ed and Al return home to have Ed's automail arm rebuilt in the anime. But he's terribly amusing.
Chapter 23: In Transit
Al spent so much time researching that the colonel felt compelled to put him on the pay roll, but he held himself back from doing so. He knew that eventually Alphonse would return to his real home and family, and Roy wanted nothing to do with holding him back. Even putting him in the situation by simply asking would be cruel.
He knew it was beginning to be that time, too. Al had broken out of the shell he had formed around himself. He talked and laughed as he had before, and he had an appetite that was comparable to his brother's. Roy found himself slightly afraid of what it was going to be like to once again have a huge house all to himself. And yet, he wasn't. Before it had been some sort of prison, everything from the walls to the blankets nothing but cold, but it was something different now. It was his home again, though still not the home it once was. It was as if all of the color had been taken away, and there was no better way to describe it. Things became a little brighter when Alphonse was around but the colonel knew from the beginning that it wouldn't be forever. Though through the weeks the alchemist pair had become close friends, Roy knew the teenager's roots were calling to him. And without blood roots to keep him in the city, it wouldn't be much longer.
The colonel was more than slightly surprised when Al came home one evening loaded down with literature on the local university. He bounced into the older alchemist's study with an air of pride to him, his face giving it all away. All those years in the armor had taught Al to be expressive as he possibly could to get his emotions across, and because of that he gave everything freely. One could practically read his mind just by looking into those guilty hazel eyes.
"Looks like you've been busy today," Roy prompted, looking up mid signature to Al's beaming smile.
"As you know I've been corresponding with a childhood friend of my and Brother's, his name is Pitt. He's a medical assistant at a hospital near my old hometown; he's a bit feisty but very intelligent and wanted to know if I had any information on Central University," he explained in response to the colonel's highly raised eyebrows. He placed his armful of books, papers, and various readings on the couch. "I went in to get some brochures and talk to a few people and I might have accidentally ended up getting him and me a full scholarship," Al announced the last bit in slight embarrassment, plopping himself down onto the floor before he began to shuffle through the pile of information.
"But don't you plan on returning home?" Roy asked in confusion, laying his pen down onto the desk.
Al waved him off with a smile. "Oh don't worry, Colonel, I will be. I made them aware of how far away Pitt and I come from and that we wouldn't exactly be able to attend as regular students. They said if we're as half as smart as I say we are we would have no trouble doing all of the work from home, and showing up once a month to be tested."
Roy folded his hands under his chin and smiled. "That's quite generous of them. What will you be studying?"
The young man began to separate the haphazard stack into two neat piles, examining each item to decide its location. "Well, I assume Pitt will want to go for medicine. I think he's a bit sore about having to be ordered around all day," Al informed him, lips curled up in an amused smile. "I'll be taking courses on biology."
Roy was immediately on high alert, eyeing the boy with stern suspicion. "Alphonse," he said in warning, a tone he had only heard his brother and Hawkeye use on him.
The teenager was immediately waving his hands about, shaking his head. The papers Al had been holding went flying left and right, and if he had been standing he would have probably been bouncing up and down like a little rubber ball. "No no, Colonel! Nothing sinister I promise!" He stopped short and tapped a finger to his lip thoughtfully. Roy closed his eyes and started shaking his head. Al fumbled over his words for a moment, realizing the older alchemist didn't trust him as far as he could throw him. "Well, not really, anyway. I mean I'm interested in it because of what Brother and I did, but I'm not looking to botch it with alchemy!" More hand waving.
One of the colonel's hands found its way to the side of his head and his fingers began to massage. This kid was going to be the end of him. And the Flame had thought his brother had been bad. "Solemnly swear to the Gate, Alphonse," he huffed, and the boy quickly and devoutly did.
After that moment everything seemed to happen in a blur. And not a fast one either, a slow smudge that smeared one day into the next into the next. It became harder for the colonel to recall when exactly things took place, and even to remember what the date was.
Spring came and went and so did Alphonse. He wanted the summer to settle back in at the Rockbell home before his studies began, and the colonel couldn't blame him. It had been months since Al had seen his family and Roy knew he was very excited to see them now that he was out of the hole he'd been thrown into against his will. When they bid a 'see you later' at the train station, the older alchemist slipped Edward's silver state watch into Al's pocket. It had been in Ed's room that Al frequently visited, and Roy knew the watch was one of the young brother's favorite treasures, though he would have never admitted to it.
The three months of summer came and went as slowly as a cloud with no wind behind it. Roy did his best to keep himself distracted and return to the way his life had been last fall. He would fight his paperwork and eventually get it done, go out with his team, go out on dates with women who had had their eye on him while doing his best to not feel guilty. He had loved this life before, hadn't he? Hadn't he been perfectly happy then? If that was the case, why wasn't he happy now?
He had a feeling it had something to do with the two gaping holes in his heart. Wounds took time to heal, but there were times and days where the colonel felt the remains were too tattered to be saved.
The last week of August brought the orientation of first year university students, and along with it two young men to the Mustang residence. Apparently Pitt had no last name, as when prompted he replied, "It's just Pitt." Al and Just Pitt always came to stay with Roy during their visits, and the colonel had a special fondness for the student doctor. The young man, who according to Al was just a couple of months older than Ed, was every bit of feisty as the young Elric had described. He was spirited and touchy, reminding the colonel of Edward in the most painful of ways. The both of them had brains wired for high intelligence but seemingly poor people skills; Al was a genius in his own way, perhaps not as much of a prodigy and that would explain why he did better with people while Edward hadn't gone a day in his life without pissing someone off.
Despite the roller coaster ride the university pair provided in each visit, the colonel welcomed them with open arms. He could stop pretending, if only for one weekend a month, that life had never changed. He could live in the reality of the pain and yet know that everything was going to be okay. He was in no way ashamed to admit those two kids were his saving grace.
A year after Edward disappeared, Roy realized what had become of himself. Fourteen years in the military, and nearly all of them spent as a soldier. He was less scientist and more a tool for battle, a pretty little placeholder in a Central office, a dog roaming the yard and ready to come when its master snapped his fingers. Most of his assessments had been no more than a test of battle against several different soldiers and weaponry, and that had been more than enough to please the higher ups. It left the keen intelligence he once possessed to rust over and lay buried with the rest of who he once had been.
He loathed himself.
Dates he would have previously accepted were waved away, offers to go out to the bar from his team were dismissed. He spent a large part of his time holed up in the State Alchemist Library, and by the third month they had put the room on permanent reserve for Colonel Mustang.
It was around that time when Pitt stopped visiting the Mustang residence when he and Alphonse came into town. He said something in the house bothered him, something private that he felt to be trodding all over each time he came to stay. Roy understood, he felt it himself at times and he couldn't blame Pitt for feeling the same. The house had too much history for most visitors and the colonel wasn't going to push the subject. And so once a month from then on, the young man stayed in the colonel's own military quarters per Roy's insisted offer. Roy didn't mind much, the hot headed university student wasn't avoiding him and the trio had a grand time going out in the evenings.
Al had gone through a few stages during his visits. He had started out in the guest room he had stayed in during his mental healing. He had gradually made the switch to Edward's room, and it was a little after the first year that he again moved to the couch Ed had once called his own. The colonel was curious when he jokingly asked Al how his monthly migration was going, and Al had laughed along. His simple reply was that he felt so close here, like he could almost touch him.
Roy didn't need to ask who he meant. His movements throughout the house had mirrored those of his brother, and though it was slightly eerie it was also comforting. He looked forward to having a monthly guest on his couch, it brought his world back into balance if only for a weekend, and that was just enough to hold him over.
Alphonse and Winry approached him after the eighteen months mark and told him they were to be married the next spring.
He congratulated them, but didn't know exactly how to react when Winry asked for him to give her away. She said she had always thought it would be Ed to do so, and that he would have wanted Roy to take his place.
The for sale sign had a big red 'sold' sticker slapped on it within the next week. His family home really was lovely, Roy decided, as he had never really paid much attention to detail. But holding onto what once was while knowing it would never be the same was taking its toll on him. To let go was to move forward. It had taken no more than a few days for the offer to come in and they had closed the sale a week after. Mrs. Miller's daughter had long since moved on, the town house she had mentioned sitting barren for a little over a year. She was thrilled when he made an offer, but seemed sad to see him go.
He was in the center of town now, around the quiet hustle and bustle of a small town square. For being so old, the house looked rather fresh and new, situated in just the right position so he always had a lot of natural light. It was a tad bit smaller than his current home, having only one living area and the office and library had to become one. But the colonel was happy to rid himself of the living room furniture. He had never bothered to replace the shattered top of the coffee table anyway.
After he had moved in comfortably, the colonel had a break in his research. He turned his assessment in early, so eager to map out his newfound solution to alchemic feedback that tended to happen with large reactions, especially ones that had been artificially amplified. He told himself that while he knew it could be used for war, it could be used to save those who weren't in the line of fire, but were unnecessarily taken out by the aftershock.
Brigadier General Roy Mustang and his team moved up one floor, to a bigger office with more resources and, yes, its own coffeemaker. In the end he figured it could be a whole lot worse. Sheska, in addition to her duties with the State Library, was permanently added to his team at his request.
Two years after Edward left, Alphonse and Winry were married. It was a beautiful ceremony, small and delicate. Alphonse had worked hard to clear out all of the ruins of his former home, leaving the skeleton of the doorway, the fireplace, and the square of the foundation. The basement had long since been filled in by the villagers, who feared children and animals wandering in. Everyone walked through the doorway and were seated on wooden chairs the young man had made from the wood left over from the fire. The brigadier general walked through the doorway with Winry on his arm, and she and Alphonse were married at the make shift alter of the old fireplace. It was the time in spring when the blossoms cut loose and blew away, adding a sort of fairytale element to everyone's happiness.
The Flame thought it was a shame that Ed couldn't be there for it. This is what they had fought for, for so many years. Right here. Al and his new wife could feel it too, Roy had never seen such big smiles full of so much sadness. Ed had made so many things possible by giving up himself, and the brigadier general wondered what else equivalent exchange had in store for them. You couldn't take away such an enigma, such light and life without something even bigger than a couple's love in return.
A little over three years after Edward left, the brigadier general got his answer. Alphonse and Winry were the center of a small get together at Gracia's house, for Al's 21st birthday. It was after the early commotion of celebration calmed down that Winry announced she and Alphonse were three months pregnant. They were met with nothing but warmth, excitement, and many congratulations. It was only later in the quiet confines of Roy's townhouse that the pair admitted the pregnancy was purely a surprise. They definitely hadn't been trying; the two had wanted to wait until Alphonse was done with his fourth year in university to start a family. Al told the older man that while he didn't believe that all things happen for a reason, this baby was proving it belonged here by already beating the odds. Stubborn little thing, Winry had said with a smile. They were frightened but excited nonetheless.
Roy felt a thrill run through him as if he were going to be a grandparent. He hated the word grandparent, he was NOT old, thank you very much. It didn't properly describe the feeling but there was no better way.
Four years since the Fullmetal Alchemist and Wesley Izaiah Elric graced the world. He was five pounds and eight ounces, most of that weight from all the hair on his head. He cried like mad when Roy held him, even more when the brigadier general began to panic and felt like crying himself. A picture of that moment existed somewhere, and Al wouldn't let him have it because the young man knew it would end up as ashes.
Roy had been half expecting some tribute toward Edward in the baby's name, and was surprised and relieved there wasn't one. With a story as rich as Al's, the Flame knew the name hadn't come out of thin air. It wasn't until Izumi and her husband visited that Roy put two and two together. When the baby was only a few months old, his namesake passed away. Her body had done the best it could throughout the years. She had made it to see Alphonse graduate with a four year degree in biology, holding baby Wesley as Roy snapped a photo of the three generations of teacher, student, and son. Fortunately he was allowed a copy of that photo, and it sat center on the mantle of his fireplace. It was if she had held out just long enough to see Al grow up, the only baby she had left. She told Roy to take the reins from there, and had her husband take her back to the hotel where she passed peacefully in her sleep.
The only people not surprised were Al and Sig. Everyone else had seen a woman who was strong to the end, and even the brigadier general admitted she had looked lively and well at the ceremony. At least now he knew where Ed had learned it from.
She was given a small funeral in Dublith, and Al had gone alone to pay his respects. Very few had the right to, his family included, and so Winry stayed at the Mustang residence with the baby during the few day period. The brigadier general probably learned more about babies than he ever needed to know in that time, primarily that they truly frightened him. He did finally get the act of soothing down pat, to the point that Winry just handed the little guy over when he started to wail. As nice as it was, Roy swore to the heavens he would never be a father.
Five years after the fact, Fuhrer Hakuro stepped down from his position. General Grumman was all too eager to take his place. It had always been his, and Hakuro knew it.
Grumman was quick to elect several generals to sit directly below him and to send their opinions and approval, or lack of, his decisions. This new form of government was nearly unheard of in their country, and the peoples' apprehension was clear. But Grumman, despite his age, was a charmer. After all, Roy had learned his skills from the best. He won his country over in more ways than one, and by the end of the year was even working on a peace treaty with the Drachmans. If the Flame didn't see evidence of it himself, he would have thought hell had frozen over as cold as Briggs.
The sixth year was by far the worst. Nothing happened. He got older. Whispered words of another promotion swept by his ears often, but he paid it little mind. The more he would think about it, the less likely it was to happen. It was a little after the end of the year when the rugged scraps that were his still healing heart began to come alive, tugging with a sort of blind anticipation. For what, he did not know. And so the brigadier general moved through his days like a fluff of cotton loose in the wind, drifting with and without a purpose.