Alphonse Elric scowled as he watched Kaoru and Envy made short work of his stone soldier minions. Using both their unique abilities and enhanced with Alchemic powers, his cunningly crafted army didn't stand a chance against their combined might.

In less than a minute, they were mere dust and debris shattered across the landscape. But he didn't expect much of them anyhow. There were merely created to allow him and his brother to fallback and think of a new strategy to defeat the pair. But they didn't even give him that much.

Huddled with Ed behind a large boulder, Al faced away from the pair and pressed his back against the stone, his brow frowning. He had to think quickly. He was running out of ideas, and his brother didn't look well. His face was pale, most likely caused by exhaustion by his broken arm. It must have been excruciating. Ed was never one to complain about physical pain, but Al knew he was hurting. He had to get him out of here and to a doctor.

"Your army wasn't much of an army, Alphonse," Kaoru said mockingly, his voice carrying over the barren landscape. "You have some fancy tricks, but that's all they are - tricks! And I thought Alchemists were clever people. I guess it takes someone of more intelligence to outwit a true master of the Dark Arts, like me."

Al clenched his jaw angry by the comment, but he refused to give into Kaoru's taunt. He remained silent. But he wasn't done yet. He still had a few more tricks up his sleeve. Well, metaphoric sleeve. The only article of clothing he was wearing was a pair of shorts crudely fashioned by Ed's shirt.

The wind whipped at his naked skin and he saw goose bumps starting to form on his skin. But how he felt would have to wait. Defeating Kaoru and Envy was more important than feeling cold. Even if it cost him his life, he would defeat them. It was his duty as a State Alchemist.

Kaoru was his father's first child. He died at a young age from Mercury poisoning. Against the very law of Alchemy, Hohenheim brought him back to life. But it at a very hefty cost. In doing so, Kaoru turned against his father and began to dwell in the forbidden Alchemic Dark Arts. When he tried to destroy Central City and the Great Alchemic Hall, Hohenheim had no choice but to cast a spell and seal him the sword that Kaoru now wielded. Hohenheim's sword.

Somehow, against all odds, he managed to free himself and escape into the real world with Envy's help - who, oddly enough are the same person, but in just different forms.

Envy is the malice and evil that was Kaoru created in Homunculus form, an un-human creature born of more forbidden Alchemy.

Kaoru, his true self, was resurrected through a conjoining with Al's body. Yet with help from the Philosopher Stone that still resided in him, that joining was broken. Now Al had his own body back and Kaoru had a new one.

This was bad, very bad, Al mused. And he couldn't think of a way to rectify things. The only way to reverse things was to return Kaoru back into the sword and force Envy out of Noah Mahjongg's body. That, however, lay in the problem. How? Kaoru and Envy were seemingly more powerful. If Ed was at full strength, they could easily take them down. Nearly unconscious, Ed wasn't any help. And with his own strength quickly fading, Al was no match for them alone. It almost seemed Kaoru and Envy could do anything, that anything was plausible if they wished it.

Anything was plausible? He had heard that before - from Envy - when he was referring to the abilities he had inside Ed's mind, that he could do anything, nothing was beyond comprehension.

Then it struck him.

Of course.

Could it be?

Were they. . .could they still be in. . .

He peaked around the boulder and an energy blast came from Envy's blasters, slicing a piece off, sending it past Al's legs, forcing him to jerk back.

If his theory was correct, winning was as simple as turning off a light switch. Theory or not, he had to force a conclusion to this stand off.

"Kaoru. Envy. I'm coming out. I surrender." Al looked around the boulder again and saw Envy's blasters poised on his position. Kaoru put a hand in front of Envy, stopping a shot. Envy lowered his arms. Al emerged from the boulder with his hands up, the universal sign of surrender. "I surrender. We've had enough. We're just no match for your superior powers. My brother needs medical attention. You can have anything you want, just get Ed to a doctor. Then we can talk."

"The time for talk is over," Envy said. "Ed will survive. In fact, he's in no danger at all."

"His arm is broken in several places. He's in shock. He's almost consciousness. He needs medical help. If you truly want his body to transmute in to, you need him healthy."

"I never said I needed him healthy. Everything I need I already have."

Kaoru looked at Envy strangely. "What are you talking about, Envy?"

"Do you want to tell him, or should I?" Al said. "I finally figured it out. It took me a while, but in the end it's the only logical conclusion to all this."

Envy smirked crudely. "Even if you have, you won't escape me. I hold all the cards."

Kaoru scowled impatiently. "What in the hell are you talking about, Envy? Explain."

"We're still in Ed's mind, Kaoru," Al explained. "We never left. It was all a clever rouse by Envy to make us think his fantasy was our reality. It was all to get us to play his little game. You see, he can never leave here. He's trapped. He's nothing but a memory. Guilt my brother has been festering since the beginning for what he did to me six years ago when we attempted to resurrect our mother. When he and my brother fought in the citadel in the underground city, he nearly killed Ed by stabbing him in the heart with his arm. Since that day, a part of him has forever been a part of Ed, building strength, until finally reaching a level where he was able to control Ed, thus making me attempt something so desperate, like a Mind Mend, trapping us in Ed's mind. Kaoru, you are real, in essence as to the memory Envy has of his old life, but as in substance, you are also nothing but memory. So, in some elaborate, devious plan, he brought us all together for an ultimate agenda. I imagine to kill us. Perhaps to finally eliminate the line of Hohenheim forever."

"Is this true, Envy?" Kaoru said.

Envy chuckled amused. "You were never more powerful than me, Kaoru. I've been the puppeteer the whole time. Al is correct. Yes, well done, Alphonse. But if I can't survive, neither will any of you."

"Envy, you fool! I can make us live again. All we need is the Philosopher Stone and --"

"That's nothing but a pipe-dream, Kaoru. Besides, the Philosopher Stone needs a tremendous amount of life force energy to even attempt what you're thinking, and Al doesn't have it. In its unaltered state, as Al once was, perhaps, but as Al is now, it won't work. So it can't be done. So all we have to do is wait until Ed dies in his mind, and we all die. And my ultimate plan will be realized."

Kaoru looked confused, Al explained.

"That's right. Theory has it if a person dies in a dream or fantasy inside their mind, that person will die in real life. It's never been proven, however."

"Let's wait together, I feel him weakening," Envy said. "He's fading. And when he collapses unconscious, he'll die."

"If Ed dies, you'll still have to contend with me. You see, our minds are connected. And now that I know the truth, I'm the one in control, and hold all the cards. In here, as you said, anything is plausible."

Al waved his hands over his body and his clothes materialized on his body, his black shirt and pants, and red coat. t

Then another surprise came. Ed walked out from behind the boulder in perfect health, dressed, and his arm no longer broken, and all his Automail repaired.

"I should've realized it myself, Alphonse," Edward said proudly, patting a hand on Al's shoulder. "I heard everything, and when Envy confirmed it, I told myself enough was enough. Sometimes a fresh mind is needed to reason things out clearly."

Envy growled tersely and aimed a blaster at Ed and other at Al. "It doesn't matter, you're both going to die. Once I kill you, they'll be nothing left of that bastard Hohenheim!"

"You were wrong, Envy," Al said. "Memory is the ultimate weapon. You can never destroy it. And now our combined thoughts are more powerful than either of yours. And since we are still in Ed's mind, the Philosopher Stone has all the power I need to do what I'm about to do."

Envy's eyes widened with both fear and angry. "You wouldn't! I won't let you!"

"One thought, and all this will be over, and you two will cease to exist."

Envy then began to chuckle and Al found it odd. "You fool. I was here in Ed's mind long before you showed up and here I'll remain. You'll never get rid of me. And I'll continue to torment Edward until for as long as he's alive."

"That's where you're wrong," Ed retorted. "You were able to control me before by using my guilt for what I did to Al, but now I know you were just manipulating me. Al's forgiven me. And I've forgiven myself. You can't control me anymore."

"I won't let you leave! I'll kill you both first."

Envy sent an intense blast of energy at both of them, but it had no effect. It just dispersed around them. They believed it wouldn't harm them, and it didn't.

Al and Ed looked at each other and smiled.

"Shall we do the honors, Alphonse?"

"Let's finally put an end to this, brother."

In unison, each clapped hands, and then slapped the ground. The ground began to quake and a large fissure opened up beneath Envy and Kaoru, swallowing them. They fell, and their screams echoed off the stone walls as they descended into a dark abyss, disappearing into nothingness.

Ed closed the fissure with his mind, sealing them.

"Time to go home, brother," Al beamed a smile at Ed.

Ed returned the smile. "I agree, Al. Thank you for saving me."

"Hey, what else is for a brother for."

And Ed laughed.

* * * *

When Ed woke up in the real world, he discovered he was in Winry's house. Al was leaning over him. Winry was also there. With a look of pure joy on her face, he found himself smiling at her. He was glad to see her, especially after what Kaoru had supposedly done to her inside his mind. He thought Winry was dead.

"You were in that mind meld a long time, nearly a day," she said.

"Only a day? It seemed longer," Ed said.

Al released Ed from the binding spell after Winry cut the tape that physically bound the brother's together. Al had told Winry to tape them together initially because Ed was jerking around too much for the Mind Meld to work properly. This is what Al told him when Ed asked about it.

Ed arose from bed, he rubbed his back and neck. "I hate bed sores."

"I hate nightmares," Al replied.

And they both laughed.

"So, what happened?" Winry asked.

Once they got a cup of tea, and Ed started to feed his rumbling stomach with cold chicken breast from the fridge, Al told her everything, as they sat around the kitchen table.

He explained how Envy was behind Ed's "Waking Hallcinations", that they met their long lost brother, Hohenheim's first son, Kaoru, and how he had practiced in the Alchemic Dark Arts and was trapped in a special sword, and how both were eventually defeated by sheer intellect. So astonishing was the story, it rendered Winry speechless.

Just as the story ended, Pinco entered the kitchen with Den following her. "Interesting story. But you'll probably be surprised that some of it is true." All three stared. Ed even stopped eating failing to swallow, his mouth crammed with food. "Your father did have a sword like that you talked about and he gave it to me to store. I have it in an old chest in the basement. Want to see it?"

Ed finally swallowed his food, but took a piece of chicken with him as he followed the others down into the basement. Pinco lead them to an old chest buried beneath other things, and the clutter was cleared away before the chest could be opened. Inside, sheathed, was a sword.

Al took it out and unsheathed it. It was the exact same sword. "But how can this be?" he said bewildered. "I thought I imagined it?"

Pinco said, "Your father must have told you about it at some point, or you over heard him talking about it, or seen it, or something else, and it stuck in your mind, and when you needed a weapon to use, you manifested it."

"Amazing," Al said excitedly. "The mind is truly a powerful tool"

"Indeed," Pinco agreed. "You most assuredly proved that by defeating both Envy and Kaoru."

"Do you think the rest of it is true?" Ed said.

"That Dad trapped Kaoru inside the sword? I hope not. But with Dad, you never know." Al sheathed the sword. "Can I have this?"

Pinco shrugged. "Sure. It's yours anyway. Call it an inheritance."

Al smiled. "Great. Thanks."

"What do you intend on doing with it? State Alchemists aren't allowed to carry weapons."

"I know just the thing."

"Okay, I'm still a little confused about something," Ed then said.

"As usual," Winry put in.

Ed scowled, but then his brow eased. "Who is Noah Mahjongg?"

"Oh, didn't I tell you? Noah Mahjongg is real. He's Major Armstrong's nephew. Major Armstrong spoke about him in a letter he sent me telling me about the work he's doing restoring the town of Loire with Rose. Noah's helping them with his Artistic Alchemy. I must have got to thinking about him and inadvertently inserted him into your mind."

"Like I didn't have enough characters already."

"But apparently he had a purpose. I don't think we could've defeated Kaoru and Envy without him. When I finally figured things out, we needed his energy."

"Ah, now I see. So you converted his energy along with Envy, Kaoru, and those souls Kaoru believed were trapped in the sword, into raw energy for the Philosopher Stone so we could escape. They were the catalyst to break free from Envy's hold. Brilliant."

Al smiled proudly. "I'm glad you think so."

Ed playfully ruffled his little brother's hair. Even though Al was slighter taller, Ed was still the older brother and it was his way of showing pride in him. "Now don't get a big head. Alchemist's must remain level headed. We both thought what we experienced was real."

"I know, and that's what bothers me. It got me thinking. What if reality as we know it is just someone's fantasy, and when the fantasy ends - will we cease to exist?"

"You're over-analyzing. Best let questions like that be the aim of philosophers. Stick to what we do best. We're Alchemists. We create our own world."

Al nodded. "Yeah, you're right, brother. Are you still hungry?"

"Always," Ed said.

"My treat. Any restaurant you want. No expense is too great. I finally have my brother back and healthy." He put an arm around Ed's shoulders. "The Elric brothers are together again!"

Ed smiled. "Yeah, I missed you very much."

"Not a day went by that I didn't think about you, brother."

"I wonder how our duplicates are doing in the other world?"

"I'm sure they're doing just fine. We sealed the gate on our end and they can't use Alchemy in that world. Even if it's still open, they can't use it without our side being open. We're perfectly safe."

And Ed agreed. He smiled. "Now, take me to the best restaurant in town. And I hope you have deep pockets, Al."

* * * *

On his next mission abroad, Al chucked the sword out a window into a lake from the locomotive he was riding on, and it sunk into its depths. Even if his father did seal Kaoru's soul into the sword, that's where it would stay. He placed an Alchemy binding spell on it just to make sure. Kaoru would stay in there where he belonged, forever. And eternity was a very long time.