A/n- this is it, minne, the last chapter!! ENJOY!!!
Chapter 32- After Everything Else
Edward stood in front of Al's still body, the blue sphere floating calmly beside him. It was amazing how in the dark it seemed as if his brother was merely sleeping, though it was an induced sleep, an unnatural sleep.
"Are you sure this will work?" Edward asked his brother's spirit, though his eyes never left the boy in front of him; this time the orb did not bounce, in its unique way of nodding, but quivered nervously instead.
"I'd like to make sure it'll work first," Ed admitted, "Your theory makes sense, but that's all it is. A soul is something unpredictable. Something could go wrong and then…then what would happen?"
Edward's voice receded to a mere whisper as this horrid thought arose. The orb dimmed, feeling the sadness encompassing its companion. It brightened a moment later, now becoming jittery. It shuddered violently and began twirling around Ed, radiating the most brilliant sapphire light yet. It stopped suddenly and shuddered again, bouncing lightly on the cushion of air beneath it. It seemed anxious, disturbed, desperate.
"You're running out of time," Ed realized; his eyes widened in panic, then narrowed almost immediately in determination as he turned back to his brother's body. "Then there's no choice; it's now or never."
Now Edward's eyes darkened as he clapped his hands and transmuted his automail arm into a sword, the slightest hesitation between the two actions, making sure the point was immensely sharp. This way, the cut would be easy and clean. He paused a moment to brush Al's hair back from his forehead, readying himself for what he was about to do. It was simple in theory, but perhaps that was what scared him the most. Perhaps this foreboding came from the thought that it was just too easy, when nothing had ever been so before. Yet now, when everything seemed to matter so much more, the solution was a little blood and some alchemy; so very simple.
He pressed his finger to the sword's edge and slid it across the blade. A droplet of blood appeared and trickled down his finger as if it were a wayward stream, not at all like a piece of his life force. Carefully, he pressed the bleeding finger to his brother's head and drew on it a circle. As he filled in the details of the transmutation circle, the memories from when he had used it last could not help but swirl behind his focused eyes. He remembered screaming with frightful, childish haste: 'My leg, my arms, my heart. I'll give them to you; whatever you want. Just give him back! He's my brother!!!'
He had succeeded then, so perhaps now he would as well. If anything, the soul seal should be easier this time, since he was binding it to its host and not some foreign material. But would there be equivalent exchange like last time? Edward brushed this thought aside as he returned his arm to normal and proceeded to pour his energy into the circle, telling himself it didn't matter even though it scared him to death. What more had he to lose but the one in front of him anyway? The fact this being held the most value in his life made the question cruelly ironic.
As the light from the transmutation circle grew brighter, Al's spirit hovered above its body, quivering in excitement. Then there was a loud crack and the light from the circle broke free from the space above Al's head in a confined explosion. A long, blue tendril shot out and wrapped itself around the missing spirit, absorbing it into the circle.
"Ed?" a quiet voice uttered. The alchemist, too concentrated on his brother didn't hear it, or notice as Winry advanced to the doorway, woken by the noise. "Edward, what are you doing!?!" she cried out as her eyes lighted on the blood and transmutation circle, where the last of the blue light was disappearing into Al's forehead.
She dashed into the room, planning to push Ed away and save her friend, but the alchemist grabbed her first, holding her at bay. She struggled in his arms but was no match for the hard training he had endured with Izumi as his teacher, even with the muscles she had gained from her mechanic work. In time she ceased all movements and watched the unconscious boy as Ed did; he said nothing to her, his mind completely consumed by his brother.
Gradually, the color flowed back into Al's cheeks and the ghostly white skin receded into a light pink. Edward let go of Winry now and gasped, elated as his brother drew a halting breath. Al held it, as if scared to lose himself if he let it go, and then slowly exhaled, his eyelids tightening. Finally they fluttered open.
"Brother," Al whimpered, his eyes filling with tears. He sat up and threw his arms around Ed, burying his face into his brother's jacket. Ed held him tightly, despite his surprise by the sudden display of affection. As if reading his mind, Al pulled away and explained.
"I almost didn't make it," he admitted, continuing as his brother's eyes widened in horror at the thought, "It wasn't that you weren't fast enough—I had no idea how to get you to perform the transmutation without being able to communicate directly."
The stifling and freezing fright that had lodged itself in Edward's chest loosened and he let it go with a relieved sigh. He realized it didn't matter what had almost happened.
"Good thing for us that I'm so smart," he jested, smiling with sincerity.
"It's good to have you back again," Winry said, smiling as well.
Thinking back on the most recent bizarre occurrence, a confused visage suddenly crossed Ed's face.
"I don't understand…" he commented, "How were you able to enter my dream like that?"
"I learned a lot about souls that I didn't know before I lost a piece of mine," Al explained, "like how they consist of completely free energy. They can go anywhere, even dreams, which we cannot define scientifically as of yet."
"Completely free energy…"Ed repeated, a sudden flicker of knowledge catching fire, "That means…the reason human transmutation doesn't work is because we haven't learned to harness free energy, or rather, free energy can't be controlled!"
Al nodded, a grin adorning his face, for he was glad his brother had come to the same conclusion he had. Winry merely blinked, confusion spreading across her face.
"Alchemist freaks…" she muttered, crossing her arms, "Can't be conscious for more than a minute without jabbering on about alchemy."
Al laughed wholeheartedly and hugged his friend, replying, "I love you too, Winry," in her ear. Laughter erupted again at the sight of her blushing as he pulled away.
Three days passed in which not all that much happened. Edward caught up on some well-deserved rest while Al, Fletcher, and Winry kept a very agitated Russell company. The doctor had ordered him bedridden for the next couple of days, much to the elder Tringham's annoyance, because of the large volume of blood he had lost and the extent of his injury. When finally the doctor said it was alright for him to move about, he all but jumped out of bed and refused to rest any more.
When finally Edward awoke, he found his friends and brother outside, helping to reconstruct the village. It took the better half of the week, but at last everyone in the village had a home. Harry stayed until then, helping with the repairs alongside Edward, Alphonse, Hoenheim, Armstrong, and the rest of the State Alchemists Roy had insisted upon to rebuild the small town. And at last it was finished; an outsider would never know what had happened just a few short days ago.
However, even though the repairs were done and Roy and the other alchemists had left, Harry tarried for a few more days before the thought of leaving came into his mind. He found he didn't really want to leave, even as he knew he didn't want to stay either. It was more the knowledge of losing newly found friends that prolonged his stay and the fact he missed his old ones that brought it to an end. The other part of it was how to get back too.
Now he was in the Rockbell's yard with Ed and Al, waiting patiently for the right time to bring up the topic that recently plagued his mind. Ed and Al were sparring at the moment, a practice that at first had seemed strange to Harry, but one that was now a daily routine. After many punches, kicks, and blocks, they finished, sweaty and elated.
"I think I won that time," Al commented as they sat down next to the boy-who-lived.
"Yeah right," Ed scoffed, "I only stopped because you wouldn't; you'd have fought 'til you were blue in the face if I hadn't."
"Sure," Al replied sarcastically; it was in fact a draw, as they were both equal matches for each other.
There was silence for a few minutes while Harry debated on declaring his decision. When at last his uncertainty bubbled to a point where it overflowed, he blurted it out, disrupting the peaceful air.
"I'm going home."
"What?" Ed replied, surprised by the suddenness of the statement.
"I mean, I have to. I can't stay here forever," Harry continued, uncomfortable with the conversation already, "I just don't know how; otherwise I'd be gone by now."
Al nodded, understanding his friend's motives; there were people waiting for him back in his own world. The younger Elric glanced to his brother, sensing the drop in Ed's mood. Edward had turned his face away and now stared at a seemingly interesting blade of grass, avoiding his brother's knowing stare.
"He doesn't want you to leave," Al stated, turning back to Harry. The young wizard nodded, feeling guilty for whatever reason.
At that moment, Sirius walked over, wondering how his godchild was doing, the thought of leaving on his mind as well. He slowed as he saw the melancholy looks everyone wore and guessed the cause.
"Is it time?" he asked. Harry nodded silently; his godfather had been getting antsy as well, wanting to return to his home world.
Edward stood suddenly, motioning for them to follow as he walked toward the house, the day suddenly seeming not so bright. Only when they were in the Rockbell's basement and among the shelves of alchemy books did he stop and address Harry.
"I want to show you something before you leave," he said, striding to the corner of the room and to the small space between the shelf and the wall. He reached into the crack and retrieved the Philosopher's Stone, momentarily awed by its luster. Both Sirius and Harry glanced curiously at Al, as if asking, 'what is he doing?'
"There is a way to recharge the Stone," Al stated before Ed got a chance to explain. The older Elric shot him a quizzical glance and he shrugged in reply. Then Ed remembered the passage he'd written about in the journal and understood where the knowledge had come from.
"It's true," Ed confirmed, placing the stone on the floor, "I explained before that the Stone is a magical battery and like all batteries, it can be replenished. All you do is direct your magical energy into it with a simple spell, like Expelliarmus, just like we used to create it."
Harry nodded, intrigued, for a glimmer of hope struck suddenly in his mind. This was not goodbye forever then! Seeing the flicker in his eyes, Sirius spoke up.
"That doesn't mean you can walk through the Veil anytime you like," he warned; Ed nodded in agreement and continued.
"There's still the risk that something will go wrong," he said.
"He's only telling you this so you can get home, and so you can get back in an absolute emergency," Al explained further. He did not know where the understanding came from, but the look in Ed's eyes deemed it to be true.
"He's right," Ed admitted, yielding to his brother's insightfulness for now, "In case anything happens and you need help."
"I think I can handle it," Harry told him, casting the alchemist a halfhearted smile.
The wizard watched as Ed demonstrated how to recharge the Stone. When he was done, Harry took it from him slowly, as if prolonging the moment to come.
"I guess this is goodbye," he said.
"Hopefully," Edward said, then clarifying, "As much as I'd like a visit every now and then, saving the world more than once isn't really my thing."
"You did alright," Harry replied, "For a beginner."
The alchemist grinned and held out his hand. Harry grasped it, remembering a time when the hardness of it had puzzled him; now it was normal. He shook Al's next, smiling down at the younger Elric.
"Don't let him get in too much trouble," he said.
"I won't," Al replied with a grin.
Edward rolled his eyes and then knelt to the ground, clapping his hands and pressing them to the wood floor. An array appeared and Ed remembered the last time he saw it, on the stomach of a wailing infant. Then he pressed his hands to the transmutation circle and banished the thought as he found the Gate inside himself. When he opened his eyes it was there in front of him, just as mysterious and foreboding as it had been the first time he'd seen it. Before Sirius and Harry could advance toward it, he caught the wizard's attention, a hesitating question on his tongue.
"Do you think…" he started, stopping as he realized how ridiculous he sounded.
"Yeah?" Harry prompted, however the alchemist hesitated still.
"Will you take care of his cat?" Al asked for him, smiling at the look of wonder on his brother's face. Again, the knowledge had sprung up suddenly, and he had blurted it out, knowing it was true.
"Of course," Harry replied with his smile broadening, "I'd be glad to."
With that said, he clutched the Philosopher's Stone in his hand tightly and stepped through the Gate as it opened in front of him, Sirius's hand in his other. As the door closed the portal dissolved rapidly into mist, until finally it disappeared.
Afterward, Ed and Al returned outside to sit on the front step, a lonely feeling about them from the loss of their friend. This lifted, however, when Russell and Fletcher rounded the corner from the other side of the house. Russell's arm was still injured, but the way he was swinging it in harmony with the other as he walked, one would never know.
"Where's Harry?" Russell asked for conversation sake, seeing the lethargic attitudes of his friends.
"He left," Edward stated, looking up at the two surprised faces in front of him.
"Left?" Fletcher echoed, now understanding the somber air.
"You'll be leaving soon as well, won't you?" Al asked, lowering his eyes; the thought of losing more friends, even though it really couldn't be called that, weighted heavy on his spirit.
"Well…" Fletcher began, looking to his brother for a sort of permission to cheer up the two.
"Actually, we're thinking of staying in Risembool," Russell declared.
"Are you serious!?" Al blurted, his dampened mood lifted. Fletcher beamed back at him and nodded.
"I wanted to tell you sooner, but brother wanted to think it through first," he chimed.
"Then you've decided?" Edward asked, intrigued and satisfied at the same time.
"It's not like we have much waiting for us back in Xenotime anyway," Russell shrugged, grinning as well, "I'd much rather be bothering you."
"Gee, thanks," Ed replied sarcastically, while the two younger brothers chuckled at their game. Then the alchemist smiled contently. "Maybe this place will start to feel like home again."
"You mean it doesn't feel that way now?" Fletcher asked, confused; Al shook his head.
"After what happened here, after we burned our house down, it hasn't really felt like home," he explained. Edward nodded, seeming lost within his memories.
Later that night, after dinner, the Elric brothers found themselves on the porch again, watching the sun sink into the hills. Edward watched the glowing red orb with a furrowed brow, and not because of its brilliance.
"They'll be okay," Al assured him, knowing his brother was thinking of Harry and Sirius and whether they made it back okay, "But if you want, you could always scry it."
"I know," Edward replied, shooting his brother a probing stare, "You know, you have to stop doing that."
"Doing what?" Al asked, confused.
"Reading my mind. Since when are you psychic?"
"I'm not…I don't know…I think…ever since I entered your dream I think I can…understand you better," Al explained in broken words, not seeming to understand them himself, "Sometimes it seems like I can just tell what you're thinking."
"It's kind of unnerving," Ed commented with a wayward grin.
He ruffled his brother's hair the way he used to when he was just a kid and returned to watching the sun set. After a moment, Al spoke again.
"What will we do now?" he asked, thoughtful, "There's no more search. We have nothing to do for once."
"Dad mentioned rebuilding the family home," Ed replied.
"I know, but after that, then what?"
The elder Elric was silent a moment as he looked to the sky, as if reading his answer from the clouds.
"I was thinking of starting an Alchemy Academy," he said at last.
"Really?" Al said, pondering the idea, "That would be…interesting."
"I think it would be," Ed agreed.
As the last rays of the setting sun disappeared into the land, the two brothers stayed sitting, side by side, reunited at last and without any worry to mull over or any agenda needing doing. There was finally peace, a harmony between them and the world and that of Equivalent Exchange.
A/n- AHHH I CAN'T BELIEVE IT'S OVER!!!! This fic has been going on for more than a year and now that it's over…I seriously have no idea what to do. But I will say…every single time I read the last paragraph I smile like an idiot because I think 'I've accomplished something I started a year ago. And it's 152 pages long!!!' CHA!!! I want to thank all of you, all my reviewers, the friends I've made with this, the criticism and opinions and…everything. Seriously, without you guys, I doubt it would have come out this good. As for a sequal, the chances are very, very, very, unlikely. I know most of you want to know about Ed's academy, but I have other stories going, stories I can actually get published. This was my legacy. Now it's done. SAYONARA MINNE!!! ARIGATO GOZAIMASU!!!!