Okay, so my update was a little later in coming than expected. Let's just say Life's been really busy lately and Writer's Block sucks. I never realized how much I missed writing until I finally forced myself to sit down and finish this chapter.
We're in the home stretch, kiddies. Enjoy.
Chapter Fifteen: Those Whom We Leave
Ed stumbled blindly into the safe house, barely even aware of where he was going. His was breathing hard, his mind awhirl with a thousand different thoughts. As he staggered deeper into the house's gloomy interior he accidentally bumped into an old end table sitting off to one side of the room. The wooden table wobbled uncertainly for a moment before toppling over to the floor with a crash. A cloud of dust billowed up from between the warped floorboards beneath it.
The young homunculus, however, didn't even notice. His thoughts were too much a confused, jumbled whirlwind for him to focus on such a trivial thing. All he could think about was what happened - the terrible thing he'd done…
I hurt Al… the horrified chant echoed again and again through his mind. I hit him. My own brother. I almost killed him. I hurt Al…
In his mind's eye he could still see Al looking up at him from where he'd fallen to the ground, his eyes two bottomless gray pools of surprise and shock, as if he couldn't believe what'd just happened. Ed felt his stomach twist at the memory of Al staring at him like that. A wave of nausea burned the back of his throat. His brother had looked so taken aback, so shocked as if he were silently asking him, Why? How could you do that to me?
Ed blindly spun on his heels and frantically began pacing back and forth if only to alleviate some of the panicked, restless energy coursing through his veins. No matter how hard he tried he couldn't exorcise that single image of Al's startled face from his mind. It was as if it'd been permanently seared into his memory, like a scar.
How could he do that? How could he strike his little brother? He was exactly what his original self and the colonel kept calling him: a monster… Because nothing but a monster would let his hatred and rage blind him to the point that he'd let himself lash out and injure his own flesh and blood.
Ed frantically spun and paced; back and forth, back and forth, unable to find any relief from his horrified thoughts.
They were right, his mind raged. They were right about me from the very beginning. I really am just like every other homunculus. I'm no better than a heartless monster…
So caught up in his panicked fit the blond Sin didn't even notice Gluttony lumber into the room and plop down on the floor on the other side of the room, out of Ed's way. The large homunculus watched Ed restlessly pace and whined softly under his breath, distressed by the other's agitation.
For an unknown length of time - seconds, minutes, hours?- the scene remained the same with only the rhythmic thump of Ed's boots to break the otherwise complete silence of the house. Then, with no warning, the door to the room suddenly flew open - striking the adjacent wall with a thunderous bang that shook the entire house - before Envy stormed through the doorway half a second later.
"Just what the hell was that about back there?!" he snarled, instantly coming at Ed like an angry viper. "I was having fun watching you and the other pipsqueak beat the shit out of each other. Why the hell did you leave? You were about to finally finish that annoying little brat off!"
Ed, however, either chose to ignore the other Sin or didn't even hear him through the hellish storm of thoughts filling his mind. He didn't even pause in his restless pacing as he turned on his heels to retrace his steps yet again.
Envy angrily grit his teeth at the other's dismissal. Stalking towards the preoccupied boy he grabbed Ed by the arm and spun him around to face him. "I asked you a question, shortie! Why'd you leave?"
Ed wrenched his arm from Envy's grip and side stepped the other homunculus to continue his rhythmic track. "Leave me alone," he said. "It's none of your business. It doesn't matter anymore. This fight's over."
The dark-haired Sin's eyes flashed, an annoyed snarl curling his upper lip. "What do you mean this fight's over?" he hissed. "Those humans were as good as dead until you decided to just suddenly give up and leave."
"There's no reason to fight anymore," Ed replied, his voice distracted and empty. "This was all a mistake. We should have never provoked them. There's nothing left for us to fight for anymore. The only thing left for us to do is retreat."
Ed looked up and emptily scanned the tiny group of homunculi. "Where's Wrath?" he asked, only then noticing the smaller boy's absence. "Didn't he know to retreat?"
Envy gave a contemptuous snort. "I got rid of him. He let his feelings for that pathetic woman that created him cloud his judgment and turn him soft. He wasn't going to be any more use to us so I took care of him. Permanently…"
Ed stared at Envy, a feeling of intense disgust washing over him at the shape-shifter's casual, almost prideful declaration. Shaking his head, he hung his head, suddenly feeling very tired and disillusioned with the world, himself and life.
"We truly are despicable creatures…" he whispered, more to himself than anyone else there. "No wonder humans hate us so much. I hate us. Homunculi truly are the living embodiment of all mankind's sins…" He slowly lifted his head to emptily stare at Envy. "Do whatever you want to do from now on, Envy, but I'm done. There's nothing left for me here. Go ahead and keep fighting if that's what you want to do. Keep fighting until you have no one left to hate or be angry with. Keep killing until it finally gives you the happiness you're looking for, but you and I both know it never will. I see now homunculi aren't meant to have happy endings. All we have to live for is our own misery and pain. So I'm giving up the fight and leaving. I'm not going to force the shame of my existence on anymore people." Then turning his back on the other Sin, he began to trudge towards the door, his shoulders hunched and head bowed with the heartache of understanding and grim acceptance.
But Envy wasn't about to have any of it. With unforeseen speed he lunged at Ed and grabbed him by the arm. His fingers dug painfully into the blood-red Ouroboros tattoo that branded him as the product of an unsuccessful human transmutation. "You're not going anywhere," the shape-shifter growled as he spun the younger Sin around and leaned down so that he and Ed stood nose to nose. Ed could see in Envy's eyes the fiery gleam of insane anger that so characterized the other homunculus burning like a smoldering fire ready to burst into open flames at any moment. "You started this fight, so now you're going to finish it. I'm tired of you brats having these sudden bouts of feelings for humans and deciding to spare them when any one of them would kill us in a heartbeat. You're just like that pathetic piece of crap Wrath!"
"I don't care!" Ed cried, viciously ripping his limb free from the other Sin's grasp. "I don't care what you say, this whole twisted little game is over! I'm not hurting any more people. I'm done! I'm finished! They win! This ends here and now!"
Envy's eyes narrowed dangerously, flashing murder. "Not if I have anything to say about it," he snarled. "For once you're going to listen to me!"
"You leave them alone, Envy," Ed growled. "If you go anywhere near Al or any of the others I swear I'll make sure it's the last thing you ever do." He felt the air around him stir and begin to slowly churn as a swell of righteous anger rose inside him at Envy's threat. The wind tugged at his hair and clothes, gradually gaining speed and strength at he stared down the other Sin. Ed let the zephyric power engulf him. His skin prickled not uncomfortably from the swirling vortex of raw energy. Electricity crackled the air. Although certainly not normal by any human standards, it felt natural to him, this strange wind. It was a manifestation of all his thoughts, emotions and pain. It was his strength, his weapon, his curse, his homunculus birthright.
And he'd be damned it he wasn't going to use it to keep Envy from going on some murderous rampage…
Envy eyed him warily, but the other Sin did not back down. Gritting his teeth, the shape-shifter rose to his full height over Ed, his body language radiating danger. His eyes glowed with murderous intent.
Ed clenched his fists, ready to meet whatever attack Envy came at him with. He knew it had only been a matter of time before Envy finally refused to obey him anymore and rebelled. Across the room Gluttony gave a plaintive, frightened whine.
But before either Ed or Envy could rush each other, the entire room suddenly exploded into a spinning void of flames, shattered glass, crumbling stone and ear-shattering noise. Blistering heat surrounded him like a fiery cocoon. Flames licked at his hair and skin. For several moments which seemed to stretch out forever Ed felt weightless, as if he was free falling through the very fabric of space. But the sensation did not last; for with a bone-shuddering jolt he collided with the ground. Or was it a wall? He didn't know. All he knew for sure was that whatever it was was hard and unforgiving and that it hurt. Following closely on the heels of that initial jolt came a shower of rocks and debris which seemed to fall on him like a deluge of gritty rain.
Ed lay there motionless, trying to recover his bearings. Slowly, the pain receded to a manageable enough level for the blond Sin to regain his senses and assess what'd just happened. He was laying on his side, half-buried under a thick blanket of rocky debris. Gingerly uncurling his limbs from around himself Ed pushed himself to his feet, staggering slightly as he straightened.
The building that had served as their safe house was now a gutted shell. Only three of its outer walls still stood. The entire front was gone, reduced to nothing but a scorched pile of rubble. A thick cloud of dust hung over the area. For a moment Ed just stared at the destruction, unable to understand what'd just happened. But just then a voice rang out, startling the homunculus out of his shock.
"You didn't really think we were just going to let you run away, did you? You and I still have unfinished business."
Ed entire body tensed. Slowly turning, he was unsurprised to find himself staring back into the fiery gold eyes of his original self - the very boy Tucker had created him to replace through forbidden alchemy. The original Edward Elric stood several dozen paces away from him and the demolished house. Behind the alchemist in a wide, sweeping arch that spanned the entire street and cut off either lane of escape stood at least two full squads of soldiers, all of them with their rifles aimed directly at the blond Sin. Heading the military contingent stood the impressive if not slightly battle-roughed image of the Flame Alchemist, accompanied by Hawkeye, Armstrong and the rest of the colonel's remaining personal staff. Ed now knew the one responsible for the firebomb that had destroyed the safe house. Only one of Mustang's trademark flame attacks could have done that much damage…
As Ed continued to scan the opposing wall of troops his eyes happened to fall on one last figure hiding behind the rest of military personnel. Taking in the familiar red coat and mussed dishwater-blond hair, Ed's heart clenched into a painful point in the center of his chest.
"You thought you could just run away from me, did you?" the real Edward Elric's voice startled the heartsick Sin out of his thoughts. He slowly took several threatening steps towards him. "You really thought I wasn't going to come after you after what you did to Al?"
Ed winced in remembrance, his stomach turning at the memory of shocked hurt in Al's eyes as he'd stared up at him from the ground. "Of course not," he softly whispered, dipping his head behind a curtain of long blond bangs in shame. "I had a feeling you'd try to follow me…"
"Why'd you run?" the alchemist demanded. There was no hint of sympathy or room for forgiveness anywhere in his voice. Just ice cold steel like his counterpart's alchemist-name implied.
"Because I see now there's no reason to fight anymore," Ed emptily replied. He pointedly kept his eyes adverted from meeting his human double's. He couldn't bear to see the hatred and contempt in them for the unforgivable crime he despised himself for committing. "I'm giving up. You win. I'm not going to bother you or anyone else again. Just leave me alone so I can leave and live the rest of my miserable life in peace."
"You're not getting out of this that easily," the other boy spat. "I haven't forgotten what you did to Havoc and Tucker. Not to mention Al!"
"What happened to Al was an accident!" Ed angrily cried. "I would never attack my own brother!"
"He's not your brother!" his double screamed. "Stop trying to pretend you're me!"
Ed's hands clenched into two frustrated balls by his sides, his entire body shaking with helpless fury. "I'm not pretending! These feelings are too real to be pretend! Al may not be my real brother, but I have the memories of him being my brother. Tucker created me with the same memories as you. So even if those memories and the feelings that come with them aren't really mine they're still real to me!"
The Fullmetal Alchemist roughly shook his head, as if trying to shoo Ed's words from his ears like he would a pesky fly. "I don't want to hear anymore of your lies or excuses!" he said, spearing Ed with a hateful glare. "You're just like every other homunculus. And just like every other homunculus I've met I'm going to stop you once and for all!"
Just like he did after Ed accidentally struck Al after the younger boy has jumped in between him and his older brother, the alchemist came at him, his automail transmuted into a deadly metal blade. And just like before, Ed couldn't find it in himself to try and fight back. Because everything his human half had said was true: he was like every other homunculus. His own actions had proved it. No matter if it was an accident, no matter if he hadn't meant to do it, he'd still struck Al - the only person he felt any sort of true connection to despite the painful truth of their blood relation. How could anything but a soulless monster do something like that to who - in all intents and purposes in Ed's mind - was his own flesh and blood? He didn't deserve to defend himself from his human self's wrath when everything he said was so horribly, painfully true…
Moving as if on autopilot, Ed quickly backpedaled to evade the alchemist's first attack. He raised his arms in defense and dodged and ducked in accordance to his double's punches and kicks - expertly fending off the bone-shuddering blows - but did nothing to go on the offensive himself. He just couldn't find the energy or will to do so. Everything he'd been fighting for, everything he thought he could do to ease the pain of his hatred and rejection had disintegrated, slipping like sand through his fingers into nothing. He had nothing left to fight for. Like a soldier without a war he no longer had any purpose or plan - only an intense feeling of emptiness and loss even though he'd never actually had anything to hold onto to begin with. It was a sad and dangerous thing how self-delusion gave one the strength to go on. How it gave the glimmer of false hope that somehow, just maybe, he'd turn his fate around and gain what he so desperately wanted if he just kept fighting for it.
Ed saw now what a fool he'd been. He'd been fighting a hopeless battle from the very beginning. He couldn't change what he was or make others overlook the disgrace of his creation any more than Tucker could bring his daughter back from the dead. It almost made Ed wish Mustang had been able to overcome his nostalgic affections and just kill him that fateful night of his creation. It would have just been so much easier that way. So much less painful. And not just for him but for everyone else involved as well. For what place did the soulless bi-product of a madman's futile hopes and dreams have in a world as cruel and unforgiving as theirs?
His human self suddenly came at him with a vicious right hook, forcing Ed to duck and scramble backwards to gain some distance from the enraged alchemist. None of the soldiers or the colonel's personal entourage had made any move to join the Fullmetal Alchemist in his fight. Like spectators in some ancient gladiatorial death match they hung back and watched from the sidelines, as if waiting for some kind of cue. Together he and his human self traced a complex course through the rocky debris of the demolished safe house - Ed constantly pressed backwards by the alchemist' relentless attacks. It was impressive how hard the other boy fought considering the beating he'd taken at Ed's hands no more than three quarters of an hour before.
His double's automail hammered again and again at his raised forearms, pounding at his defenses like a medieval battering ram. A foot snapped out, ready to bury itself in his exposed side but Ed deftly twisted away just in time - the tip of his human self's boot grazing the edge of his shirt. The alchemist rounded on him, his prosthetic arm cocked back in a fist. Ed braced himself to take the blow with the back of his forearm. But just before any contact was made, the other boy suddenly pulled off the attack and shot his other hand out instead. Before Ed could understand what was happening, his double's flesh hand wrapped around his upraised wrist - and the world suddenly seemed to stop.
Ed's entire body froze. His muscles instantly locked as if seized by rigor mortis. His mind halted mid-thought as if suspended in a hazy fog that felt like some kind of surreal dream. As if watching a movie play out from the back of his skull, Ed felt himself pitch forward and fall to his knees almost as if in slow motion. He barely felt the pain of his knees hitting the rocky ground. All he was aware of was the hand wrapped around his wrist, of flesh fingers clamped around his pulse point like five miniature vices of cold hard steel. Air suddenly seemed like a luxury he was no longer able to afford. No matter how hard he tried his lungs refused to expand and draw air, nor could he force his frozen body to break the invisible bonds holding him captive.
As he knelt there motionless and vulnerable a blue light rose from the ground and surrounded him in an unnatural otherworldly glow. Without warning a bolt of white hot searing pain shot through his body. Ed's ears rang with the silent scream of agony that was muted by his constricted throat. His stomach clenched in his gut, unable to endure the pain. And then, with nothing to lessen the violence of the reaction, Ed lurched forward and spewed the contents of his stomach out in a wave of phlegmy vomit and walnut-sized transparent red rocks.
For several minutes Ed continued to heave and choke, his stomach turning over and over despite having already purged itself of all the Red Stones Izumi has fed him the night of his creation. They lay before him in a balmy pile, shining wetly in the murky gloom.
The supernatural blue light surrounding him faded away and the vice-like fingers disappeared from his wrist. Like a diver breaking the surface after a long submersion Ed drew a shaky drag of air, once again able to move. Too weak to move let alone stand, Ed continued to kneel there, his entire body shaking violently. His limbs felt unnaturally heavy and weak, his muscles completely powerless as if they'd all been replaced with overcooked noodles.
Shivering uncontrollably, Ed glanced to the side and for the first time noticed the intricate chalk lines crossing back and forth over each other across the rubble-strewn ground in the design of a giant alchemy array. A sinking feeling of realization settled over Ed as he stared at the complex transmutation circle. He didn't need to be told what kind of array those lines formed. He remembered through the transplanted memories of his other self it as being the same array the real Edward Elric had used to seal not only Greed, but also the homunculus version of his mother and now, ironically, himself. It was the only transmutation circle known that could force homunculi to expel the ingested source of their power and numerous lives.
His other self and Mustang must have planned this trap from the beginning before they firebombed the safe house to draw him out. Looking back now Ed realized what his human double had really been doing as he's attacked and driven him back: he'd been steadily herding him to this spot to catch him in this array. It had been an ingenious plan that had played out perfectly. One Ed should have seen from the beginning but had been too preoccupied with his own thoughts and melancholy to realize what the alchemist had been up to.
Glancing towards the far line of troops, Ed knowingly met the heart-sickened gaze of Alphonse Elric who knelt on the very edge of the alchemy array staring back at him, his hands pressed against the outermost ring. He should have known… That was why Al had been hanging back from the rest of the colonel's troops. He'd been waiting for his real brother to draw him into the transmutation circle so he could activate it and catch him inside.
He should have known…
A pair of heavy black combat boots suddenly stepped into Ed's line of vision, startling the young homunculus out of his thoughts. Gathering what little remaining strength he had, he tilted his head up to look at the boot-owner's face. Like the towering statue of some ancient god of retribution Edward Elric stared down at him with fiery cold eyes. The alchemist's features were hard but etched with a number of other emotions too complex for Ed to exactly name. He saw in his double's face satisfaction, triumph, disgust and revulsion; but at the same time shining in the farthest depths of the alchemist's eyes he saw the shadow of something else Ed could only describe as… pity?
The scuffled echo of movement caught Ed's ears and he weakly glanced over his shoulder to see Mustang and his personal staff making their way slowly towards him and his human counterpart. Hawkeye moved near the head of the group beside Mustang, her revolver held out in front of her like a deadly divining rod which remained expertly trained at Ed's head as if she expected him to leap to his feet and attack at any moment. The others hesitantly followed and kept their distance as they fanned out in a wide circle around him and the real Edward Elric to stare. Ed forced himself not to look in Al's direction. He couldn't bare the pain of meeting his little brother's sorrowful gray eyes again.
Mustang slowly came to stand beside the real Edward Elric, and stared down at him. His one eye that wasn't hidden behind a large eye patch was stormy and dark. "Is that all of them?" he asked, motioning with his chin towards the pile of blood-red stones splattered across the ground in front of Ed. His voice was carefully controlled, betraying none of the colonel's inner thoughts.
"Should be," the blond alchemist replied. "With no Red Stones to feed off anymore he should be powerless now. He no longer has an unlimited number of lives or strength. Basically, he's mortal now."
A suffocating silence descended on the group, pregnant with the weight of sudden indecision now that they'd actually succeeded in their plan and stood over their enemy in victory. None of them, it seemed, had planned for what to do once they finally succeeded in their quest.
Ed's human double was the first to put voice to the question weighing on all their minds. "What do we do with him now?" He glanced at Mustang out of the corner of his eye.
The colonel continued to stare at Ed, his expression darkening with inner turmoil. "It should probably be sent to a government research facility," he said. "But I'm not sure how I'd explain its existence if we did. I've already done so much paperwork to cover up Tucker's transmutation it would look suspiciously back on me if I revealed what he created now."
"It's not a suggestion I necessarily want to promote or one I morally agree with," Armstrong rumbled from the rear of the group, "but if Edward's homunculus no longer has any Red Stones to sustain him, wouldn't he be vulnerable to death now just like a normal human being?"
"No!" Al cried out, horrified. "You can't kill him!"
"I can make it quick and painless," Hawkeye said, her gun still expertly aimed between Ed's eyes. "All I need is one clean shot."
"You can't!" the younger Elric shouted. "That's murder!"
"No…" Ed softly rasped from the ground before Al could say anything more in his defense. Everyone looked at him in surprise almost as if they'd forgotten he was even there. Mustering his strength, Ed weakly pushed himself up enough to sit back on his heels and meet the colonel's and his original self's eyes. "No," he repeated in a stronger voice. "The major's right. I should be killed. I don't deserve to live. Not after everything I've done… I'm tired of fighting. I'm tired of being what I am. Just kill me. Put me out of my misery. I was never suppose to exist." He glanced at his little brother, meeting Al's teary gray eyes and holding them steadily with his own. "It's for the best," he emptily murmured. "There's no other way for this to end…"
Another intense silence fell over the group, none of them sure how to react to Ed's surrender. Mustang looked agitated, as if taken aback by Ed's proposal. The eldest Elric shifted anxiously beside the colonel, his facial features scrunched together in an uncertain expression. Alphonse, meanwhile, looked as if he were about to be physically ill. He desperately stared at Ed, as if silently pleading him to take back what he'd said and think of something else. But Ed's resolve didn't waver, even under his little brother's plaintive stare.
This was the way it had to be…
He hoped Al never lost his innocence - that innate ability of his to believe things eventually worked out for the best and that happy endings really were possible. He truly hoped Al never changed. There were far too many people like himself who had seen and experienced too much and lived each day with the knowledge he could never go back to living with rose-colored glasses to blind himself from Life's crueler truths. No matter how much Al wanted him to pretend otherwise, Ed knew this truly was the only way for this to end once and for all…
Glancing at Hawkeye, the homunculus met her conflicted ruby-colored eyes. "Please…" he whispered, the faintest hint of pleading tainting his voice. "Do it quickly."
The lieutenant seemed unsure what to do. The tip of her gun shied from Ed as she shot Mustang a questioning glance, waiting for orders. The colonel continued to stare at Ed for a long moment of silence as if reevaluating some old opinion of him before slowly turning away and meeting Hawkeye's gaze. They stared at each other for several heartbeats of laden silence before Mustang finally gave her a small, solemn nod of assent.
The female sharpshooter looked back at Ed and retook aim. "Thank you," Ed sighed with relief. As the lieutenant steadied her grip, sighting down the length of her weapon, Ed let his eyes slip close, ready to welcome the release her polished service piece was prepared to offer him.
Time seemed to slow as he waited for the sharp report of Hawkeye's gun to sound and usher in a wave of darkness that would swallow him in its inky black embrace and end his suffering.
The muffled click of Hawkeye thumbing back the hammer echoed loudly through the suffocating silence of the surrounding necropolis.
Yes, Ed's thoughts echoed in the silence of suspended time. Let this finally end…
He imagined he could almost feel the lieutenant's eye on him, marking the exact place on his forehead she intended to sink the deadly bullet. It was strange, Ed mused, that he felt no fear at what was about to happen. His entire existence was about to end. He didn't have the reassurance of religion to give him the hope of going on to whatever waited for humans beyond death. He was a homunculus. A soulless creature born from science. This lonely, empty life he had was all he had to look forward to for as long as he walked the earth. And it was for that reason alone Ed felt nothing but peace at the thought of no longer existing - of simply ceasing to be. There was no pain in nothingness, no regret - only release. He was consigned to his fate. He was ready to give up the fight.
But before Hawkeye could squeeze the trigger and deliver the final deadly blow Ed so desperately yearned for, the patter of shifting debris suddenly sounded off to the side from the ruins of the demolished safe house. Ed's eyes flew open and snapped in the sound's direction. In front of him, Hawkeye dropped her aim and turned in surprise as did everybody else.
As they watched, one pile of rubble shifted and out of the rocky debris emerged the battered, dust-covered figure of Envy who's been all but forgotten in the commotion until now.
"You know, this is getting really old…" the shape-shifter growled as he straightened and stepped out of the fire-charred remains of stonework and mortar. There was something dangerous in the way the Sin moved, like an angry viper emerging from its hole. The gleam of madness burned brightly in his purple-black eyes.
"I'm so sick and tired of people constantly trying to screw me over," he snarled. There was a rabid look of insanity about him as he scanned the assembled group of alchemists and soldiers as if his and Ed's interrupted fight had been the final straw in breaking the Sin's already questionable hold on sanity. "I'm not going to take it anymore!" he shouted. Then, with no warning - a wave of shimmering white light transforming his right arm into a deadly spike - he lunged at the nearest person to him.
Roy Mustang barely had time to register the Sin's unexpected appearance before he suddenly found himself in the direct path of the shape-shifter's rage. As if in slow motion he watched Envy rush towards him. The homunculus' transmuted arm was cocked back over his shoulder, ready to skewer the colonel right through the chest. Roy's one hand instinctively shot up, his fingers poised to ignite the flammable material of his gloves that gave him his alchemist-name. But he already knew it was a futile gesture. Envy was coming at him too fast and there was no way for him to concentrate a fire attack accurately enough on a superhumanly agile homunculus without putting himself and everyone else in danger of accidentally being caught in the explosion's back draft.
Envy was now almost right on top of him. For a brief moment Roy saw in a hyper-sped collage of images in his mind's eye everything he'd left undone and regretted. Hugh's murder. The Ishbalan war. His confrontation with the homunculus fuhrer. Havoc laying near dead in a sterile hospital bed. The monstrous parody of Fullmetal's clone clawing at the floor in a pool of bloody filth. The same creature - human now in appearance - kneeling before him in a hastily chalked transmutation circle begging Roy to end his suffering. These and so many other images flooded the colonel's mind as Envy bore down on him like some kind of black carrion bird of death.
But before Envy's spiked arm could find its mark in the Flame Alchemist's chest, another figure suddenly appeared in front of Mustang. There was a slurpy crunch and then a misty spray of liquid that splattered the front of the colonel's jacket in tiny dots of purplish-red. It took a moment for Roy's surprise-frozen mind to realize that the liquid was blood, and then another moment to realize that that blood was not his own.
Rattling himself out of his shock Mustang looked up from his blood-splattered jacket to his savior and felt his stomach lurch at the sight he beheld.
Edward Elric - or rather the soulless incarnation of the Fullmetal Alchemist - stood directly in front of him barely even a stride's width away between him and Envy. The boy's back was to Roy, his golden-blond plait hanging between two ridged shoulder blades. And there, just to the left of the homunculus' braid, protruded the tip of an eight-inch long bloody spike of flesh.
Gore and bits of stringy sinew hung from the end of Envy's transformed arm. Blood seeped from around the edges of where the shape-shifter's arm had punched its way though the upper-left corner of the younger homunculus' ribcage, and stained the boy's tank top a shiny even darker shade of black.
Edward's clone stood partially slumped forward, his knees visibly shaking underneath him with the effort not to sag to the ground in a boneless heap at Envy's feet - although Mustang wondered fleetingly if the only reason the soulless boy remained standing wasn't really because of the other homunculus's arm holding him in place. Long blond bangs hid most of the clone's face from view, but that did nothing to prevent Mustang from seeing the disturbingly red gush of blood that erupted from the homunculus' mouth as he lurched forward against the transformed limb and gave a single violent cough.
"You brat…" Envy hissed, staring at the blond Sin in equally shocked amazement as the colonel. "Why the hell did you do that? Why'd you go out of your way to save this human?"
"Because…" Ed's clone rasped, his voice watery and choked as he slowly lifted his head to look Envy in the eyes, "it's not right… There's been enough suffering and death because of us. I'm not going to let you hurt him or anyone else anymore… It's time for this to end once and for all…"
The air around the soulless boy suddenly began to churn, steadily gaining speed and power as his homunculus power manifested itself. A startled look flew across Envy's face as the unnatural cyclone of wind and crackling energy surrounded him and his fellow Sin, and tried to wrench his arm free of Ed's chest. But before he could, the younger Sin's hands shot up and wrapped around where Envy's wrist would have been, trapping him there in place.
"Let go of me, you little bastard!" Envy screamed over the howl of wind as he continued to frantically struggle against the other's steel-like grasp.
"No…" the boy rasped, his blood-smeared lips twisted in a gruesome sneer of triumph. "This ends for good here and now…"
True fear flooded Envy's eyes as Ed's grip on his wrist tightened. With one hand keeping Envy's transformed arm firmly in place, Ed slowly reached his other hand out and pressed it to the shape-shifter's forehead, his fingers curling around the top and sides of the Sin's head. The wind surrounding them increased in ferocity, savagely pulling at their hair and clothes as if they'd become the center of some mini tornado. Envy's eyes went wild with panic. He opened his mouth as if to speak, to beg for respite or perhaps even last minute forgiveness. But anything the shape-shifter might have said was lost in the deafening roar of wind.
Ed felt no pity inside him as the other's face contorted with pain and Envy's eyes went impossibly wide - as if finally realizing there was no escaping this unforeseen end - before they slowly drained of life, like water slipping away through a sieve. As Ed continued to dispassionately watch, Envy's head lifelessly tipped backwards like that of a broken doll, his unbound hair flying freely in the wind. The wind continued to angrily howl and swirl, sealing the two in a place separate from the world that refused to accept them as its own. And as the wind continued to tug and bite at Ed and his captive, Envy's body began to disintegrate.
Like sun-baked sand, Envy's skin started to crack and chip, flaking away from his body like layer after layer of old paint. Bones, teeth, and then a jeering skull gradually emerged before they too were vaporized into a fine power and caught up and carried away by the swirling cyclone of power. Envy's desiccated body crumbled in on itself under Ed's touch, before finally disappearing in a billowy cloud of dust as half a dozen Red Stones dropped heavily to the ground at Ed's feet in a series of dull thuds.
The wind surrounding Ed gradually faded away, leaving him standing alone in a wide circle of powdery gray dust and scattered stones. Silence stung the ears of everyone there as they stared at the blond homunculus, the labored pants of his breathing the only thing to echo through the otherwise empty vacuum of sound that'd followed in the wake of what they'd just witnessed.
Purple-red blood poured freely from the gaping hole in Ed's chest where Envy's arm had once occupied. The sticky warmth had by now spread all the way down his side almost to his hip. Pain radiated across his entire chest like a burning trail of fire. Ed swayed dangerously on his feet. His vision was blurring black around the edges, his head frighteningly light and disconnected from the rest of his body. It was getting difficult to breathe, and Ed had a sinking suspicion he'd reached the end of his physical limits.
So this is how it finally ends… he dully mused as he tipped his head back to look at the dark stone ceiling high above. I just wish I could have seen the Sun one last time…
Ed's world suddenly seemed to tip on end, his knees giving out from under him. Like a marionette with its strings cut, the soulless boy crumbled backwards, weightless and limp.
But before he could connect with the unforgiving ground, Ed felt himself caught by a strong pair of arms and gently lowered to ground. Confused and disoriented by the rapid loss of blood, Ed weakly blinked his eyes up at the one supporting the upper half of his body off the ground against a solid chest, and momentarily wondered if what he saw wasn't really a hallucination. For there, as tangible and real as the rocky ground he lay against was none other than the revered Flame Alchemist himself, Roy Mustang.
The colonel's face was an unreadable confusion of emotions as he stared down at Ed, his one eye filled with a look too foreign and poignant to fully make out or name. Cradling Ed's bloody body to him, Mustang pressed one hand to Ed's mutilated chest as if that was somehow enough to patch the massive hole steadily draining the young homunculus of life. The colonel's once white glove was almost instantly stained a dark, sticky crimson.
"Someone find a medic!" he looked up and yelled. Panicked urgency tainted the colonel's command.
Before Ed could understand what was happening, there was suddenly a small group of people huddled around him and the colonel. Through a groggy dint of blinks Ed was able to push back the encroaching tunnel of darkness from his vision enough to make out the blurry image of his human self leaning over the colonel's shoulder, and there kneeling beside the real Edward Elric (Ed's heart clenched painfully at the sight) his little brother Al, his soft gray eyes brimming with tears as he sorrowfully stared down at him. Others in the colonel's personal entourage pressed in behind the two brothers, but Ed could only bring himself to really focus on the youngest Elric brother's heartbroken face.
"Al…" he whispered, his voice frighteningly weak even to his own ears. His body gave a violent shudder at his pitiful attempt at speech and he coughed. Ed felt a trickle of blood escape the side of his mouth and slowly trail down the length of his jaw.
"No, don't speak," Al shushed, frantically staring into Ed's drooping eyes. "It's going to be okay. Don't worry. We're going to find you a medic and get you better. Just hold on. Everything's going to be okay. Please, just hold on."
Despite the boy's panicked rambling, Ed already knew Al was really only trying to fool himself into believing what he said was true. He could tell by the painful shine of understanding in his brother's eyes that Al already knew how this was ultimately going to end. With none of Izumi's Red Stones left to sustain him, he no longer had the ability to heal or be revived.
He was now as vulnerable as any normal human being…
"What did you do just now to Envy?" his human self spoke up beside Al.
Ed had to fight to bring the real Edward Elric's face into focus. Swallowing thickly against the coppery rise of liquid in the back of his throat, Ed weakly explained in between increasingly shallow pants of air, "I de-transmuted him… Besides copying alchemy attacks, that's my homunculus power… I can reverse completed transmutations; like what I did to your automail arm when we were fighting… I couldn't let him hurt any more people… I had to stop him once and for all…" Ed let a mirthless smirk twist the one corner of his mouth. "At least…" he wheezed with increasing difficulty, "I was finally able to do… something good in my life… even if it was only at the very end…"
Beside him, Al choked back a quiet sob of despair. Turning bleary eyes towards the younger Elric he wished he could call his own blood, Ed felt tears burn the corners of his eyes. "I'm so sorry, Al… I never meant to hurt you. It was an accident, I swear… I know you must think I'm a monster… and hate me because of what I am, but please-"
"I don't think you're a monster," Al sharply cut him off. He leaned closer to Ed, as if to convey the sincerity of his words. His eyes shined impossibly bright with unshed tears in the gloomy light. "You're my brother. How could I ever hate my own brother?"
Ed's breath hitched, his heart constricting painfully tight in the center of his chest. Tears sprang up to burn the corners of his eyes. Brother… For so long he'd hopelessly yearned to hear that single word come from Al, directed towards him in acknowledgement. And to hear it now after all the pain and suffering he'd both caused and received was almost too surreal for the young homunculus to believe was really real.
"I should have seen it earlier," Al continued in a strained voice that sounded dangerously close to breaking. "I should have listened to my heart and not what everyone else kept saying. I'm sorry I didn't realize the truth sooner…"
For a moment Ed could only dumbly stare at Al, his heart shattering at the guilt and remorse in his brother's voice. There was no way such emotions could be faked. The pain he heard was too powerful, too tangible, too real for the younger Elric to simply be giving him some last minute farewell born out of pity or some overzealous sense of compassion. What he was hearing was real and somehow infinitely more painful to bear than if Al had just turned his back on him and left him there to bleed to death alone and hated. Because now Ed knew that despite everything else that'd happened - the fighting, the hatred and bloodshed - that there'd always existed this tiny kernel of redemption waiting for him in the form of his human younger brother. Even if there'd been no reason before now for him to believe it might somewhere, somehow exist…
"Al…" Ed rasped. His voice was barely louder than a whisper now. It was getting so hard to breath or focus his dimming thoughts. Al had to lean down closer to hear him. Not trusting himself to try and put into words anything else he might have wanted to say, Ed tentatively reached his hand out to Al, hoping beyond all hope that this time he would not be rejected.
Without hesitation, Al grabbed hold of Ed, clutching his hand tightly in between both his own as if that might somehow keep Ed from slipping away into the dark void of nothingness that awaited him beyond.
Al's grip was like a solid anchor, grounding Ed there in the here-and-now so that he might savor every last second Fate deemed him worthy enough to be spared.
"Thank you…" Ed whispered, his voice slurred and weak as his eyes sluggishly swiveled around to take in the surrounding crowd of blurry faces. "Please tell Havoc I'm sorry… I never really wanted to hurt him… If I could go back in time… If I could take it all back, I would… Please… tell him-"
"We will," Mustang gently cut him off. The colonel was staring down at Ed, his face a carefully controlled mask of emotions. His one hand maintained a constant pressure on Ed's seeping chest wound. But beneath Mustang's blood-soaked glove Ed would have sworn he felt the Flame Alchemist's hand shaking, as if struggling to maintain his outward aura of calm. And though he couldn't be a hundred percent sure, he thought for the briefest moment of time, in the dim light of the necropolis, he caught a faint glimmer of wetness shining in the corner of the colonel's one eye. "We'll tell him, I promise…"
"Thank you…" Ed whispered. His eyes were beginning to grow heavy, as if they each weighed a thousand pounds. The pain in his chest was no longer as sharp as it'd been before, as if someone had just shot him full of anesthetic. His body felt heavier now, sluggish. His lungs still struggled to draw in air, but for some reason breathing no longer seemed as important as it once did. The tunnel of darkness ringing his vision was growing larger, as if moving closer to swallow Ed in its inky black embrace. But Ed no longer feared its approach.
The colonel was a strong, solid presence beside him. Al's hands were warm and comforting around his own, reassuring him he was still there despite the encroaching darkness. And although he hadn't really said anything since Ed had stepped in between Envy and the colonel and collapsed to the ground, the fact that the real Edward Elric had chosen to stay there by his homunculus's side and not abandon him to a lonesome, painful end was an unforeseen comfort to the dying Sin.
His lips twitching into a tentative smile, Ed weakly squeezed Al's hand a little tighter as the darkness began to sweep over him. "This…" he murmured, his eyelids growing impossibly heavy, "was all I ever really wanted in the first place…"
Weightless darkness rose up to surround him. Surrendering himself to it, Ed let himself drift away, Al's hand still tightly gripping his own. There was a last half second in which Ed felt as if he were fading, falling away from himself into the very fabric of time and space.
And then, there was nothing…
Al felt the muscles in his homunculus brother's hand go limp and watched as his sorrow-haunted gold eyes went dim, then blank. And before the Fullmetal Alchemist's clone's eyelids slid fully shut for the last time, Alphonse Elric let the ragged sobs of despair he'd been holding in until now finally overtake him.
And although the younger Elric brother's tears fell in continuous waves on his placid features like the cold spring rain pounding the earth high above their heads, a small peaceful smile still pulled at the corners of Ed's lips…
An epilogue is all that still remains of this story. I'm so sorry to disappoint people if they were hoping Homunculus!Ed was going to make it out of all this alive, but he had to die. He was one of those tragic heroes that redeemed himself just before the very end but would have never been able to actually live past it. Despite redemption, Homunculus!Ed was still guilty of numerous crimes and would have never truly fit in with everyone else - no matter how much they might have tried to overlook the fact that he was, indeed, a homunculus.
Thoughts? Feelings? Comments? Threats?