1The Strongest Soul

Bound by Fate Series - Story #1

D M Evans

Disclaimer - not mine, all characters belong to Hiromu Arakawa et al, Square Enix and funimition. I don't make a profit

Time Line - Manga based, future AU, looking some 14 years into the future and speculating on how the action might resolve and going on from there.

Rating - pg-13

Pairing - Al/Sciezka (mentions of Ed/Winry, Roy/Riza, Gracia/Armstrong)

Summary - Years after getting his body back, Al thinks he has it all, a good job, a nice home and a lovely wife. After all he's been through, fate has to treat him kindly now, right?

Author's Note - Written for the Al challenge at fmafuhq. WARNING - contains a fair amount of angst and there is character death. Thanks to evillittledog for the beta.

Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart." - Marcus Aurelius

He shifted his weight onto his left leg, his arms and right leg making languorous arcs through the air. The cool down helped to clear his mind normally but it wasn't exactly easy to do it when he was watching a handful of student trying to follow his movements. He was getting a better respect for what he and his brother had put Izumi through. It would be easier if a couple of the teenaged girls weren't ogling him when they thought he wasn't looking.

It didn't help that among those amorous eyes was a set of emerald green ones belonging to Elicia Hughes. What would Maes think if he knew? Alphonse imagined he could hear the cocking of the overprotective man's gun from the beyond. Still, he hoped that on some level Maes was aware of the wonderful and talented young lady his daughter had grown into, just like he hoped his mother knew he and Ed finally had their lives on track.

Al wiped a trickle of sweat off his forehead. It was hotter than the face of the sun outside, he was sure of it. It could be worse; he could be Ed. While Al got his body back, his brother's limbs were lost for good. Ed spent the better part of the summer whining about the heat and accidentally branding himself with his own limbs. "That's enough, class. I'll see you all tomorrow."

Watching the students disperse back to the locker room to change out of their work out clothes, Alphonse caught Elicia looking at him again and whispering something to one of her girlfriends. She'd do better to pay attention to Mustang's daughter a few paces behind her who looked ready to try something she shouldn't. Five years younger than her classmates, Xiang was a bit of a prodigy at alchemy but given her parents that surprised no one.

Xiang meeped in surprise as Al took the pen she was using to sketch an array onto her hand with. He wagged the pen at her. "Your father is on campus today so you'd better go wash that array off before he sees it. I'm sure he knows what it does."

Big brown eyes, so much like her mother's, went wider and Xiang bobbed her head. Elicia stalked back and swatted at her. "Brat."

Alphonse watched the girls race off, Xiang not able to outdistance the older girls she had been trying to prank. Al didn't think the good natured teasing she was receiving as punishment was likely to deter another try later on. When the democracy had been established after the extermination of Wrath and dealing with Father...no, he couldn't think about that, it still hurt, President Mustang had opened up relations with Xing. No one knew yet what to make of Ling who seemed to suppress enough of his homunculus nature to function in the way he had hoped when he sought the stone and at least for the last decade both countries had blossomed under the trade agreement. It also prompted Roy to acknowledge his own familial ties to Xing and named his daughter after his grandmother. Mark, Xiang's twin, was more a reminder of how strongly tied Mustang was to Amestris.

Sighing happily, Al headed for the faculty changing room. How the future had turned out had been a surprise to him but when he thought about it, Al realized that was because he never planned for a future beyond getting his physical form and his soul together again. The last decade or so had been nothing but a bonus, like some magical thing Al had never expected to be gifted to him. It hadn't been easy, even after the Fuhrer and Father were gone. Getting used to being alive had taken time. He couldn't do the things he had been accustomed to doing any more and several painful accidents served to remind him of that.

Life had been rough with trying to form the new democracy which wasn't really a democracy yet, not truly. The first true presidential elections would be held next year and Roy wasn't running for it, in spite of strong support for the people he had ruled for a decade. Roy had had enough. He and the senate had done a lot to heal the country and Roy wanted to put more time in with the school he helped create with the help of the Elrics and the Armstrongs. The Academy trained new State Alchemists who actually were for the people, not the military. Each class, like the one Al had just dismissed, were small and hand picked. Roy had borrowed from some of the military's psych testing to screen candidates to make sure another Kimbley wasn't created; well as sure as they could be. Who knew the workings of a mind? Both Al and Ed enjoyed teaching at the school, Al probably more so. Ed liked his time away 'recruiting.' His brother hadn't learned to give up his vagabond lifestyle yet, much to Winry's chagrin. Usually she just let him go on his own, too busy with her automail business and their kids to follow.

As he showered off, Al contemplated his life and came to the conclusion he was happy. He was vaguely confident he was the most popular teacher at the school except maybe for Armstrong. Then again he was never sure if the students loved Alex Louis or were just terrified of him. He'd heard students asking Elicia what he was like at home since he had been her stepfather for several years now. Roy was popular, too, though mostly with the older girls who liked to flirt with him.

Refreshed and redressed, Al cut across campus, such as it was; there really were only three buildings, the class rooms and locker rooms, the alchemy lab and his destination, the former State Alchemy library. He ran into Roy on his way there.

"How's my daughter doing in class?" Roy looked tired. The stress of his position had begun to really show on him, his hair bearing a little salt and the slight crinkles around his eyes and lips.

"Good. She really enjoys the martial arts as well as the alchemy...though you might want to have a talk with her about pranking people with her alchemy." Al rolled his eyes. He didn't envy Roy having to deal with twins on the verge of teenage-dom.

Roy's lip curled. "I know where she got that from, that damn brother of yours and those annoying little alchemy exercises he taught her."

"Go yell at him," Al replied, waving Roy off, too tired of the endless battles to care.

"But the classes are going okay?" Roy persisted, flopping down on one of the quad's park benches. Al took a moment to see how many of the president's security men he could spot. As much fun he had made of Maes, Al was amused to find Roy was nearly as bad with his own kids.

"Fine...except I'm pretty sure Elicia is making googly eyes at me," Al sighed with a rueful wag of his head that caused his ponytail to make arcs in the air.

"So long as it isn't my daughter doing it, you get to live." Roy eyed him grimly. He rubbed his fingers for emphasis even though his array glove spent more time in his pocket these days.

Al flushed at the very thought as he leaned against an oak. "Your daughter is only twelve. I should hope she's not ogling me."

"It's starting. Riza bought her a training bra. I am not ready for this," Roy moaned, dropping his head into his hands. "She was supposed to stay little and sweet."

"And not worry about flirty boys like you used to be chasing after her." Al smirked. Mustang was more amusing than he knew.

Roh's head jerked back up. He practically growled. "I'll kill them."

"And you used to laugh at Maes."Al went over and patted Roy's shoulder. "You're every bit as bad as he was...only less with the pictures."

"Riza would kill me and it'll be your turn very soon. Trust me, everything changes." Roy stabbed a finger at Al who rather hoped the older man was right.

"What changes?" Ed asked, slogging up to them. The dark circles under his brother's eyes were so big they could be continued on the next person.

"Eeeww, you look awful. I'll assume Aaron still isn't sleeping the night," Al said, feeling sorry for his brother. Aaron was a colicky baby and curious to boot so sleeping wasn't high on his agenda.

Ed gave his pony tail a tug. "Not even close."

"You'd think you would have learned the first time," Roy said, getting to his feet.

"Tresa was nothing like this. She was a good baby. Aaron never stops crying," Ed moaned, his gold eyes lacking luster.

"Yes, could be worse, could have been twins," Roy replied. "I gave up on sleeping through the night twelve years ago."

"You never did sleep through the night, so where's the loss?" Ed grumbled, wrinkling his nose at the president.

"You two battle it out. I have someone waiting for me," Al said, cutting his losses before either man could get really started. He knew what they were like. They didn't even seem to notice he was leaving them; Roy was yelling at Ed for teaching Xiang bad habits and Ed was moaning about having to go home and alchemize the diaper hill into something less stinky.

The library was silent as usual and, fulfilling his expectations, the librarian didn't know where the head librarian had gone off to. Al didn't mind. He liked the hunt. He finally found her in the basement tucked away neatly in an alcove, her nose in a book. "Hard at work I see?" Amusement danced in his voice.

Sciezka dropped her book then peered up at him owlishly behind her glasses. A faint blush mantled her cheeks. "I got distracted."

"You always do." Al leaned down and planted a kiss on her lips. He helped her to her feet then caressed her belly. She was starting to really show now. "Are you sure you should still be working?"

Sciezka leaned against him. "I have four more months to go. I'd be so bored at home, especially without my books."

He kissed her cheek, sliding an arm around her. "I know. Want me to make dinner tonight?" Al asked hopefully. Sciezka might be able to reproduce any cookbook from memory but she was totally incapable of making proper use of them.

She plucked off her glasses and inspected the lenses. "I was thinking of making headcheese sandwiches."

Al tried not to wince. Pig's brains on bread? "How about we do that another night?" Preferrably one where I can invite Ed and Winry over with their dog because the cats won't touch that stuff. "We have to walk past the market. Let's just pick up some fish to fry. I think tomorrow the spiced beef I put up to marinate will be ready and you have the day off. You can stew it up." Al's mouth watered at the prospect of the beef he had been spicing twice daily for a week. Now if only his wife could get the hang of adding the right amounts of beer and water to the pot for the slow cooking.

"Fish sounds good," she replied, sliding her glasses back on. "With pickles and plums."

"On your piece. I think I'll just have fried fish." Al wish he knew what made pregnant women crave bizarre food combinations. He remembered Ed alchemizing vast quantities of ice for Winry the first time and fetching ice cream with cheese the second time. With Sciezka, it was all pickles and plums.

"Okay but you don't know what you're missing, buddy." She tweaked his pony tail.

Oh yes I do. Stomach aches and vomiting "I'll just have to chance it."

XXX

One fish dinner later, Al dragged a huge chunk of maple through the window then transmuted the earth he used to raise the log back into the yard. The room was painted pale yellow and Sciezka had started brushing on the words to nursery rhymes all over the walls. Al clapped his hands and transmuted raw maple into a crib. He was busy inspecting his work when he felt hands on his back. From his crouching position, he gazed up at his wife. "What do you think?"

"I think it's perfect. I'll get the mattress pad and the rest of the bedding in town tomorrow since we're off. I think You can make the dinner tomorrow. Given the way you've been babying that beef, if I turn it into shoe leather, you'll pout." Sciezka grinned at him.

"You've confused me with my brother. I don't pout," Al said and she just gave him a look. "Okay, I'll pout. I like the plan." He put his arms around her, pulling her close. Al hiked up her shirt and kissed her protruding belly. "You look so beautiful."

Sciezka stroked his hair. "So you keep telling me. I feel fat."

He kissed her belly again. "You're radiant."

Her hand fisted in his hair, drawing him up. Sciezka's mouth met his hot and hard. "Show me," she breathed when she let him go.

"Who can tell me the chemical properties of this?" Al held up a hunk of granite. He didn't miss that three of the girls in the small class were busy doodling in their books in between making eyes at him. He wouldn't have tacked on the 'in order' if the class had been paying attention. One of them set her pen aside and raised her hand. "Yes, Elicia, go ahead."

"Silicon dioxide, seventy point one eight percent, Aluminum oxide, fourteen point four seven percent, " she recited then remaining ten compounds.

Xiang's hand shot up and Al knew what was coming next. "Yes, Xiang?"

"The Diphosphorus pentoxide should be point nineteen percent, not point twenty," the younger girl corrected Elicia's minor blip in the percentages.

"Very good," he said, ignoring the look of death Elicia bestowed on her young friend. He glanced towards the door, hearing someone slipping in. Riza stood at the back of the class and he remembered Roy moaning about some big boring family gathering they had to do as part of a news reel to be released at the movies before the shows started. Roy had said Xiang would have to miss the martial art relaxation session that came at the end of most every day. "All right class, let's call it a day," he said just before the bell rang.

The class started filing out but Elicia and Xiang both lingered. Elicia went over and hugged Riza, greeting her aunt. Alphonse joined the girls.

"Hello, Riza."

"You're looking good, Alphonse. You and Sciezka need to come over for dinner some night," Riza said, putting a hand on his arm.

"I'd like that. Sciezka's been very tired lately though," Al replied, knowing he sounded more worried than being tired warranted.

"Pregnancy does that to you," Riza said, putting a hand on her daughter's shoulder.

"Mrs. Elric looked really tired today in class," Elicia put in. While Sciezka's job at the school was predominately to maintain the library, she did teach one of the core curriculum classes in literature. Of course, she was often late to her own class, usually too caught up in a book to remember the time. Al knew the students worried about taking her class especially if they hadn't really read the book; Sciezka would know instantly.

Al sighed. He didn't like this at all. Maybe his wife's exhaustion was just a normal part of pregnancy. Certainly Winry complained enough about how the baby had made her tired and worse, sucked her memory dry. Sciezka hated that part of the whole process. Still, Al worried. He wished Sciezka would just make an appointment with her doctor but she seemed to think there was no need to move up her next appointment. Being tired was part and parcel of being pregnant. At least her new diet had ended her cravings for paint chips and cigarette butts. The doctor had diagnosed Sciezka with Pica, an iron-deficiency syndrome that lead to the bizarre cravings. Adding a lot of meat and spinach to their diet had helped with that. There was no cure for pickles and plums, however. "Thanks for letting me know, Elicia."

"When's her maternity leave start?" Riza asked.

"Soon," Al replied, scowling a little. He was acting a bit too much like Ed for his comfort. Not soon enough.

"She only has little more than two months left, Al. This is the worst part. Everything swells and hurts and you're damn sure the baby is damaging all your internal organs with the gymnastics they insist on doing and you start thinking 'why did I ever have sex'." Riza added that last to Elicia. The seventeen year old blushed brightly. Al knew Elicia was definitely at the age to be considering sex, if she wasn't already indulging. A healthy reminder of the perils was probably good for her. "You have no idea how lucky you are to be male, Alphonse."

"Oh, I have a good idea. Brother told me all the lovely things Winry said to him during the deliveries." Al grinned, remembering Ed's indignation at those hurled insults and subtle relief that he was male.

"Roy's lucky I didn't have my gun in the hospital or I might have tried to approximate the pain for him." Riza smirked.

"Mom!" Xiang rolled her eyes, expertly executing an 'I'm a teen and mortally mortified by my mother' expression. "Do we have to go now? I want to do the last session. It's my favorite part." Her brown eyes fixed on Al as the twelve year old smiled.

Riza arched an eyebrow at her child. "We do have to go now. You'll survive."

"Besides, Professor Elric isn't doing the class today," Elicia said. "My step dad is."

As her face fell, Xiang shuddered. "Let's go, Mom."

Riza laughed and steered her child out the door. "Bye, Elicia. I'll try to stop in and see Sciezka soon, Al."

"Thanks, Riza." Al watched them go with a soft smile. Oh dear, Xiang does have a crush on me. Better start studying up on how to block Flame alchemy . "Anything I can do for you, Elicia?"

She shook her head. "I'd better run and change before Alex Louis makes me do calisthenics all the way home."

Alphonse laughed. "Yes, that would be awful. You'd better hurry."

He watched Elicia bustle off then headed for the library. He knew enough to know his wife would never be in her office. She liked being among her precious books too much. He had asked Armstrong to take his place in the late afternoon relaxation session. Al wanted to spend a little more time with Sciezka since he was so worried about her. Al was almost surprised to see her in her secondary office within the library. White gloves adorned her hands so he knew she must be perusing a very old and valuable text. Still, her eyes were heavily lidded and, to his surprise, it looked like she wasn't even really reading. "Sciezka, are you all right?"

She peeled off her gloves so she wouldn't get any oil on them then rubbed her eyes as she nodded. "Just tired, love."

"Doesn't look like that book is all that excited." Al put a hand on her shoulder and leaned over to kiss her cheek. He squinted at the pages trying to determine what she was reading. If he wasn't mistaken it was a book Riza had loaned from her father's alchemic library but not one pertaining to flame alchemy. Long ago Riza had decided that her father's best work would die with Roy and, to Al's surprise, Mustang agreed. Then again, when he thought about the things Mustang had wrought in Ishbal, Al wasn't all that surprised.

"Oh, it's not that. I'm just feeling swollen and exhausted." Sciezka sat back, letting her head rest against his chest. She patted her bulging belly.

"I wish you'd call Dr. Brooks." He rubbed her shoulders.

"I have. I go in in two days, okay? You fret so much." Sciezka smiled up at him.

"I worry," he admitted, leaning over to kiss the tip of her nose. "I thought we could go out for dinner tonight if you feel up to it."

Sciezka smiled up at him. "I'd love that. I'm definitely not up to cooking tonight."

"Good." Al offered her a hand up.

Sciezka put the book back under glass and they had a quiet meal at one of her favorite restaurants. Afterwards at home, Al had let her unwind with a book while he finished up a mobile to hang over the crib. The nursery was ready. Sciezka had covered the walls with rhymes and he had taken care of all the furniture. Stuffed toys and blankets he knew would come from their friends once the baby was born so he resisted the urge to fill the room with them. It wasn't easy.

Going back into the living room, Alphonse tuned the radio to one of their favorite mystery shows and slid himself under her feet. Sciezka set her book aside as he started massaging her swollen feet. She practically purred under his hands or maybe that was Rogue, the bulky silver and beige tabby that had draped himself over the back of the couch. Midnight, their black female, had parked herself in front of the fan, efficiently blocking most of the air.

"That feels so good. I swear by the end of the day none of my clothing fits. How can one body swell so much?" Sciezka moaned.

"They do look pretty puffy tonight," Al said, keeping up his gentle massage.

"Too bad there's not an alchemy trick to make a baby grow inside the dad because right about now I'd be all for that," she said, rubbing her belly.

"I'm just as glad there's not." He grinned.

Sciezka snorted. "You and every man out there."

"Is he kicking again?" Al asked, nodding to the hand she circled over her swollen abdomen.

Sciezka shook her head. "No, she's pretty quiet," she replied, emphasizing her beliefs that they were going to have a girl. Al didn't care one way or the other so long as the baby was healthy. He already made the assumption that between the two of them they couldn't help but make the smartest baby ever. "I haven't felt her kicking in a couple days."

"That's a little odd, isn't it?" he fretted.

Sciezka shrugged. "She might be doing it when I'm asleep. It doesn't always wake me up. I'll be sure to tell Dr. Brooks."

"Yes, do," Alphonse said as Rogue got off the back of the couch and butted his head between Sciezka's feet and Al's hands so not to miss out on petting. Al set the disappointed cat on the floor. "Don't be surprised if Riza pays us a visit and Ed and Winry want us over for dinner."

Squinting behind her glasses, she wrinkled her nose. "Is Aaron still colicky?"

"I'm not so sure it is colic," Al replied. "I think Aaron is just like his father, cranky at the world."

Sciezka laughed. "That's highly likely. Anything else new at school I should know about?"

"Well, I think Xiang has a crush on me." Al smiled.

She laughed harder. "I can't say I blame the girl. You're as cute as the dickens but maybe we should start flame-proofing the house."

"I'm just hoping no one illuminates her father to this little fact. Roy's been traumatized enough by the training bra alone," Al chuckled. "I pity the first boy who tries to date her."

"I can only imagine." Sciezka wagged her head.

Later, when they finally went to bed, Al spooned up with his wife and gently tapped a finger against her belly. He was disappointed when the baby didn't respond. As of late, the baby had taken a dislike to anyone touching its 'home' and tried to kick the offending object. The first time he had seen his child's little foot visible where it pressed against his mother's belly had mesmerized Al. He sighed softly, wishing he wouldn't worry so much but Al couldn't help himself. He was new to being a father and his brother had been right; pregnancy was a scary thing.

"Well, she sees the doctor later today but she's getting worse," Al fretted, not touching his lunch. He sat under a tree at a wooden table where he, his brother, Roy, Armstrong and Song Yun, the alchemist from Xing who specialized in healing alchemy, picnicked on the bright summer afternoon. "She's looking sallow. I wanted her to stay home but..."

"She couldn't be away from her books," Ed finished for her. He didn't look much better than Sciezka, Al thought. Obviously Aaron still wasn't sleeping through the night which meant neither were his parents.

Al nodded. "I'm hoping Dr. Brook talks some sense into her. I can bring her books so she's not bored. I don't like this."

"The women think it is easy on us during this time but we have our own worries," Armstrong said.

Al rubbed a hand over his face. Out of all the men with him, only Song Yun had no children then again, he was a fairly young man. Al knew everyone else had done their fair share of worrying over their wives and now it was his turn. "We certainly do."

"If there's anything we can do to help you, Al, let us know," Roy offered even though Al knew that when Roy wasn't paying his visits to the academy to see how it was going, he was busy running the country. He was even doing an admirably good job of it in Al's opinion.

"Thanks, Roy." Al glanced up hearing his name and Song's being screamed. Elicia, Xiang and a couple other girls pelted over the quad.

The alchemists surged to their feet as a group and met their students half way across the grassy expanse.

"Song! You have to come quick," Elicia cried, "You too, Al."

The fact she used his name on school grounds told Al how frightened she was even if he couldn't see it in her eyes. "What's wrong?"

"Sciezka collapsed in the library," Elicia said.

"Someone already called for an ambulance," Xiang added but Al barely heard her. He was already racing for the stone building.

Barely aware of the pack of friends on his heels, Al stumbled up the library stairs and tore his way through the stacks looking for his wife. He found Sciezka surrounded by her co-workers as she lay on the floor. Al's knees protested as they slammed into the marble flooring at Sciezka's side.

Al fumbled for her hand. "Sciezka, love, what's wrong? What's happening?"

Her eyes fluttered open then closed again. "Feel so tired," she mumbled.

"I'm right here with you, Sciezka. I'll make everything all right," he promised her as Song Yun knelt down with them. The healing alchemist looked grim.

"What's wrong?" Al demanded to know but Song Yun just shook his head, his hands moving over Sciezka.

"The ambulance is here," someone called.

Al found himself almost bumped aside as the medics came to take his wife, half listening to Roy telling them to take her to the military hospital. Sciezka might be retired military but the armed forces still had some of the best doctors in Central. He knew there was little the medics could do so he clung to his wife's hand as he paced along side the gurney. The medics tried to bar him from climbing inside the ambulance with her. "I'm her husband and I'm going," Al snarled and the medic backed off. "Ed, you know her doctor. Please, see if you can bring her to the hospital. Song Yun, come with us. Is there anything you can do? Do you know what's wrong?"

Song Yun drew Al aside and said very softly, "I do not know if I can help. I fear...something is very wrong with the baby."

Al's legs felt too weak to hold him and he wasn't sure what he mumbled to the Xing alchemist. He almost fell getting into the ambulance. Even as he pasted on a smile for Sciezka so she wouldn't see his fear, Al knew for the first time how Sig had to have felt when Izumi lost their baby. Would he have to chose between the life of the baby and the life of his wife? How could he make a choice like that? Then Al realized there was no choice. He would chose Sciezka and pray they were luckier in the future than Sig and Izumi.

Sciezka faded in and out of consciousness as the ambulance hurtled through Central's busy streets. Al kept her hand clasped in his as he murmured reassurances to his wife. Song Yun had stopped trying to help and from the look in his dark eyes, Al knew it wasn't good but he didn't dare ask. If he did, he would break down here and he couldn't afford that. Sciezka needed him. One of the medics got an iv in to her arm but there was little else he could do for her. Al hated this helplessness.

It seemed like it took a lifetime for the ambulance to arrive at the hospital. Al ran alongside the gurney again as the medics wheeled Sciezka inside. As wooden doors that lead deeper into the hospital loomed, a white uniformed nurse headed him off.

"You can't go beyond those doors, sir," she said.

"Let me...I just have to tell her I'm waiting," Al begged and the nurse nodded. Al leaned over the gurney rail and kissed Sciezka's cheek. "I'll be waiting for you, love. I'm not going anywhere."

"I think...I am," Sciezka muttered. "Love you," she managed to add before her eyes closed.

Al let them take her to be treated and Song Yun led him to a waiting room and made him sit down. Al rubbed at his eyes, not crying but wanting to. "You know what's wrong, don't you?"

"I hope that I am wrong," Song Yun said. "I am not a doctor, Alphonse. A healer, maybe but I do not know...I do not want to say until the specialist has had a chance to help her."

Al sat for a while then ended up pacing the waiting room. Occasionally he'd roost again only to get too restless to sit for long. Not only had Ed, Roy and Armstrong joined them but so had their respective wives. Elicia eventually capitulated to her mother's wishes and with Xiang and Mark's help, took young Daiman and Tresa home along with baby Aaron.

The eternities that passed while waiting for the doctors reminded Al of the timelessness that had passed waiting for his mother to get better. Only she never had and when he saw the looks in the eyes of Dr. Brooks and the other doctor with her, Al knew without being told his world had ended again. He stumbled over to the doctors the query into how Sciezka was doing dying on his tongue.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Elric," Brooks was saying, her face pale. "We did everything we could. The baby must have died a few days ago but didn't miscarry."

"It happens some times. The poison spread too far. We couldn't save her," the other doctor was saying but Al couldn't hear him over the shouting.

Slowly he realized all the noise was coming from him but by that time he was on his knees on the hospital floor, tears dripping off his chin into a messy little puddle. Al choked and sobbed. Suddenly arms were around him, one metal, one flesh and he grabbed onto his brother as hard as he could, burying his face against Ed's shoulder, not caring that it was the ungiving metal one. Al couldn't even think, couldn't process his loss. More arms went around him, blond hair tickling over his neck. He stayed there safe in the cocoon of his brother and his oldest, best friend because if he left it then he'd have to face the world. If Winry and Ed let him go, Al didn't know what he'd do.

Through tear blind eyes, Al could barely make out all of his friends crying too. He could hear Armstrong's gusty sobs and Roy's angry mutterings at a god that none of them really believed in. His baby was dead. Sciezka was dead. Inside of him, something died. It wasn't fair. Life had taken his childhood from him. It wasn't supposed to come back and rip away his future too. Leaning against his brother weakly, Al felt sorrow draining out of him as blind rage took its place. Somehow there had to be a reckoning.

Al knew it wasn't fair to Winry but he slipped out of the house when she was distracted with breast feeding Aaron. Ed was with Mustang trying to make funeral arrangements. They had asked if he wanted her buried in the military cemetery with honors or did he prefer a civilian one. He thought he had said military but for the life of him now he didn't know why. He couldn't be laid next to her when he followed her.

Oddly his mind tossed that aside as he made his way to his home. Coming here had been a mistake. It only fueled his rage. The soft scent of Sciezka's perfume hung in the house along with the slightly musty smell of books. It helped scoop out what little heart he had left. As if fate thought he hadn't suffered enough yet, his legs moved as if by their own accord into the nursery. Al ran a hand over the buttery yellow walls with all Sciezka's penned rhymes then sent the mobile he had made spinning.

Watching the little stars and moons spin fed the fury inside of him. With a wordless scream, Al slammed his hands together and attacked the room, stopping his alchemy at the second stage, disassemble. The nursery came undone and each moment of it suckled the choler in him.

"Alphonse!"

At the sharp command, Al sent a wave of flooring at the intruder before realizing the only person it could be was someone fate had made into his family. Ed cried out his name before hurtling into the remains of the room, grabbing his brother's arm. Al saw Mustang lying dazed near the doorway, half squashed by the debris Al had sent his way. Ed said his name again as Al sagged to the rippled floor, too tired to even cry any more.

"I'm sorry," he whispered.

"It's okay. We sort of expected it. That's why Mustang came in first. Figured he'd make a better target than me." Ed smirked slightly. "You usually listen to me."

"I'm sorry, Roy," Al said again, watching the older man stagger to his feet. A purple flower of a bruise already blossomed on his cheek and if the president didn't go see Song Yun it was likely his picture would be in the newspapers tomorrow with his eye swollen shut.

"It's okay," Roy said, dusting himself off. He sounded shook up.

"Al...I don't even know what to say," Ed said. "I know you're not okay but..."

"I won't do this again if that's what you mean," Al replied, gesturing at his ruined home.

Ed's nod was barely perceptible. "I called Tea...Izumi," he said. Even after all these years, both brothers had trouble being informal with their mentor. "I thought maybe you'd like to see her as soon as possible."

Al nodded gratefully. Of course Izumi and Sig would have been summoned no matter what but he was glad his brother had thought to do it. Izumi had become their surrogate mother much as Hughes had become their father. At least they still had her and Al needed her now. "Thank you, brother."

Roy came over and helped Ed get Al back on his feet. Ed slipped his living arm around Al's back. "You should come home with me, Al. You can't stay here by yourself."

"No, actually, Alphonse should come with me," Roy interrupted. "I have plenty of room. I think Pinako and Gracia are already there. They'll probably spend the night."

Ed opened his mouth to protest then something flickered in his gold eyes. Al realized the men hadn't gotten a chance to discuss this part of their plan. Ed nodded. "That would be even better."

Yes it would, Al decided. Mark and Xiang weren't kids any more. By their age he and his brother were already under Roy's command. At Edward's home, he'd have to face four year old Tresa and four month old Aaron and all he had just lost would become that much sharper by relief. He wasn't ready for that. At the presidential manor, Al could have a wing to himself without even seeing the Mustangs unless he wanted to. And he couldn't help but notice that the inclusion of Granny and Gracia would surround him with the only people in their makeshift family who had lost spouses. "Thank you, Roy. I don't want to stay here," he admitted honestly.

Ed patted his back. "I'll help you pack up some things, Al."

"Thanks, Ed."

Al let the two men steer him out of the nursery. He didn't doubt Ed would sneak back later and set the room to rights. That would be for the best. Al would have to sell the house. He would never be able to live in with walled up with memories of Sciezka and the child who would never be.

Al had heard Roy remark to Riza that it reminded him of the day they buried Maes, too beautiful of a day for such a terribly sad event. He had to concur. Fluffy white clouds, looking like the spun sugar candy he had hoped to one day share with his child, dotted the crystalline blue sky. Birdsong filled the warm breezes. The scent of flowers perfumed the air so much it was hard to breathe. They made for a riot of color around the freshly turned earth. It should be a day for picnicking and fun, not this, not this horrible sorrow. The doctors had told him that the baby had been a little girl and he didn't like to think about the autopsy that revealed that information to them. He wasn't sure why they thought he wanted to know and yet oddly he did.. Roy had the monument company rush through the stone which Al couldn't bear to read. He knew somewhere on it were the words Sciezka Elric and her baby daughter, Dove, the unlikely name Sciezka had wanted if their child was girl. If he read the words, it would make it too real to him and he'd never make it through the ceremony.

None of the words registered with Al as it was. A priest had spoken, a man from a church that Sciezka had attended without him but the longer part of the ceremony fell to Mustang. Al caught snippets of how fate had brought the rambling Elric family together, studding it with a diverse array of people but the love that went through them went beyond the bonds of blood. Al lost the thread again as he surveyed his family. Silent tears trickled down Mustang's face as he spoke and Riza wept just as quietly as her twins clung to her.

Tresa's hand was caught in Granny's gnarled one as the tough old woman stood wet-eyed in the sun. Aaron slumbered on his father's shoulder as Ed stood next to Al. Winry kept her arm tight around Al's waist through the ceremony. Izumi and Sig, Gracia and Elicia, even Armstrong who was quieter than normal, all wept for his loss. The student body had turned out to honor Sciezka as had more old friends. Breda and Fuery, Falman who looked more grim than usual. Al remembered that the older man had courted Sciezka before she had fallen for Al. Maria and Havoc who walked now with a cane thanks to Song Yun's alchemy. Song Yun was there with an ambassador from Xing to represent Emperor Ling. Al missed Ling and Ran Fan even though sometimes it was hard to tell where one stood with the homunculus emperor.

So many people, each of them there for him to help share his pain if he'd let them. Just over the rise was Hughes' grave and for an absurd moment Al missed him too, as freshly as if his murder had just happened. Ed gently jostled him out of his fugue when he passed Aaron to Winry. Al had asked not to have to hear the dirt being shoveled onto the casket. He didn't think he could handle that morbid sound but no one seemed to be leaving the site. Had they forgotten that request?

Ed and Izumi joined Roy at the headstone. With a flash of alchemy, the soil was put to rights almost soundlessly and then the mourners were invited up with the flowers they held. One by one, blossoms were laid atop the sod, no terrible sounds to bear until Al was left with no one but his immediate family at his side.

"Do you want us to leave you alone for a little while?" Winry's voice was as gentle as her touchon his arm.

Al fumbled for her hand, shaking his head violently. "Not today. I can't..."

They stood for a moment in silence but Al couldn't say goodbye. It was too soon. Goodbyes would come later. Ed and the rest will take care of me here, he thought. Mom, Hughes, you look out for them over there for me. Al wiped his wet face then looked at his brother. "I want to go home now." Al meant all the way home to Resembool where he could lie in its green mantle and feel safe. That wasn't possible so he'd settle for here with his family. He had no faith in fate but he trusted in those he loved to help him heal.