Disclaimer: Don't own Full Metal Alchemist. Making no money. Please don't sue. See Author's Notes as the end of the chapter. Anime-based ONLY. Spoilers through Conqueror of Shamballa.
- x -
Shivering fingertips drew imperfect lines. He knew it. Knew there was no time for imperfections. There would only be one opportunity to do this, and it looked as though he was going to fail.
Please. Please work.
It was getting harder to move around, and every time he knelt it was more and more inviting to stay there. His throat was bleeding quite badly now, he could taste the metallic sludge in the back of his mouth, and his breath whistled oddly. He could still breathe, though, and he would use every last one to accomplish this last goal.
He had to. Had to do it for nii-san.
Ed had done so much more for him.
His brother lay exactly where he'd dropped him, just outside of the badly-drawn transmutation circle. The closet was very small, it was almost impossible to draw a circle large enough and still keep his brother from touching it. Edward was still staring blankly at the ceiling. He showed no interest in the proceedings, and if he'd had the ability to speak, Alphonse would have been telling him exactly what he was doing. Drawing the seven-cornered transmutation circle.
Drawing it in his own blood, because there was nothing else to use.
And even if there had been, he wasn't sure anything else would have worked.
He had only minutes before he'd lose consciousness, and he was somewhat glad that he wasn't going to have to perform a full transmutation in this state. He wasn't sure he could. All he had to do was decompose the matter, not reassemble it into something else. And if that didn't work –
Well, that was why the transmutation circle was seven-pointed.
If nothing else, there were more than two people in Amestris that were alchemists. There was a better chance of it being destroyed there than here.
His shoulder throbbed in a way he hadn't felt since he'd been armor, his soul aching as if it could feel the blood seal that bonded it to cold iron. It was also bleeding quite heavily, and it was that blood, running down his trembling arm, that he was using as his ink. He was spattering droplets freely on the last half of the circle, but he had nothing to wipe them away with, and he carefully swallowed saliva and blood away as he finished the line that made up the outer perimeter.
It would be good enough to perform a base decomposition, at any rate. It probably wouldn't be enough to summon the gate even if he did die, but it was the best he could do.
If only nii-san would wake up!
He really should have found the automail. There was no telling what the scientists would do with it, and it probably wouldn't be that much harder to decompose it with everything else.
But there was no time.
Alphonse Elric pulled himself upright once more, blinking as his vision swam. It was probably past time; they were probably dying now, in that chamber directly below this glorified custodian's closet. Maybe they had already died. He didn't know much about the research, but he knew it was still in preliminary phases, so even if nii-san had been capable of speaking and remembering, he wouldn't have been able to give an accurate estimate of when to try to perform the decomposition.
He needed to try it now, before he passed out.
Before he died.
He couldn't leave this problem up to the alchemists, and he couldn't leave it up to the Germans, either. Not if he could help it.
Shakily, he settled back awkwardly on his haunches, trying to pull his feet out of the circle. It took up nearly the entire floor of the tiny space, leaving him little room to tuck himself out of the way. The odd posture pulled on both the bulletwounds simultaneously. The ache in his shoulder turned white-hot in an instant, and his throat seemed to pull stickily at itself. Both pain responses caused an uncontrollable quiver to run the length of his already shivering spine. Al still managed to bring his hands together, but the room spun crazily, and as he collapsed forward and to his left, he could no longer feel whether his palms had met the floor or not.
Not that it mattered. He'd collapsed on the circle itself. Even if he didn't complete the decomposition, at least his death would power the alchemic reaction even if the deaths in the room below could not.
If Colonel Mustang hadn't been able to seal that gate in the hidden city, perhaps they'd end up there. At least then he could be sure it would be found by a State Alchemist. It was the best he could hope for, now.
Alphonse forced his eyes open, hoping beyond hope to see the red glow of a decomposition, but he saw nothing but darkness. From far away he could hear a pounding sound, which he assumed was the soldiers trying to break down the door. Had the reaction begun to the point of causing the floor to tremble? Or had they simply figured out it was the only place the brothers could have hidden?
He hated to leave nii-san alone in this place, but he knew, better than anyone, that this is what Ed would have wanted.
They had to get rid of the uranium bomb, no matter what.
- x -
He would have smiled if the view had been anything like what he'd imagined.
Not that he'd ever really imagined this scenario. Oh, today hadn't been the first time he'd ever been up in a balloon. His first balloon had been . . . around fifteen or so. Part of his training, long before the gift of ignition cloth and the level of technique he now possessed. It had been a harrowing experience of constantly struggling to maintain the temperature of the air to avoid igniting the cloth of the balloon, being unable to really control his altitude, and staring wild-eyed with what little time he had at the ground, attempting to figure out if he'd left the country yet. He had been absolutely certain he would never set foot on solid ground again.
So there had been little time for actual sightseeing. Little time to appreciate the beauty and understanding that seeing familiar landscape from above granted.
The part about little time still stood, he thought a bit sardonically, passing through a fairly thick column of smoke that was drifting across the city sky. It had dozens of siblings. Large clouds of dust still choked the air from the collapse of the secret city below Central and the consequences that collapse had wrought above. Few city blocks were untouched, and civilian casualties would be high.
Of course, given that two worlds and both Elric brothers had been involved, it was probably relatively little damage. At least Central hadn't disappeared into the sand altogether. Hadn't been the second city on the same spot to vanish in the span of a few hours.
It was probably a good thing Edward Elric's visit had been so brief. Hopefully Alphonse would have the sense not to tell him what had happened in the last several years.
The colonel passed through another thick cloud of smoke, coughing and blinking the tears out of his good eye. He needed that eye, needed to be able to see.
Needed to calculate where he was going to land, and what would be safe to destroy.
He was still around a thousand yards up, he didn't even know how high he'd been when he'd been shot down. Of course, the troops below had no idea that the enormous piece of debris descending towards them was no longer in the hands of the enemy, nor that it had a passenger. They should probably be commended for hitting it at all, considering they'd never before had to destroy a flying target so fast and so high.
Not that he would be the one commending them. Lauds from a corporal didn't mean much in the grand scheme of things.
Unfortunately, study of the fast-approaching earth didn't yield the results he'd hoped for. He was not going to fall anywhere near the crater that revealed the underground city, and the place Alphonse had opened the gate. He was skilled, but he knew he didn't have reach enough to destroy that gate from here. It would be too difficult to manage the levels of oxygen in the air at his distance, and he didn't want more of the city to collapse in an uncontrolled underground explosion.
Not to mention he didn't really know how Alphonse had transmuted the gate to begin with, so there was no telling what it would take to destroy it.
And there was no doubt that he had to destroy it. He wasn't sure Armstrong would have the heart, and he was the only other alchemist that really had a handle on what was going on.
And since Al had leapt across to Ed's side of the flying vehicle, with the intent of traveling back through the gate, it was also obvious he was going to have to wait until they'd safely passed through. And he was going to hit the ground before that actually happened. Their half of the flying vehicle was just passing the mouth of the crater now, traveling far faster than his had been and safe from the soldiers' weapons.
So he needed to survive this fall.
The air was whipping at his uniform and hair as he gained speed, trying to creep around the seal of his eyepatch. He supposed he could transmute his uniform into another small balloon, but the circles on his gloves were specifically for gas manipulation, and he had neither the time nor the materials with which to draw a new one. He'd sink like a rock through a cloud of helium, so there was no point in transmuting the atmosphere around him. Not to mention he'd also have a good chance of incinerating himself doing that, considering his previous vehicle was falling in burning pieces all around him.
No, there was really nothing else for it.
Roy Mustang closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and tried to memorize the way the wind felt against his face.
- x -
He couldn't quite bring himself to put down the weapon, still staring at the mounds of inactive armor. After all, hadn't they been dead in Lior and yet continued to fight? These had fallen from the skies onto the streets, only to get to their feet with their strange guns and continue to fight.
He hadn't seen any walking armor for the better part of five years, and he had certainly liked the younger Elric brother a great deal better than these. Even if Alphonse Elric's armor had been empty, it was a hell of lot less creepy than being filled with a dead, mangled human body.
Where had these people come from? What did they want? Why had they attacked, and where was their general?
He didn't need to glance to know that the rest of the team was as shocked as he was. It had been, literally, years since they'd fought so desperately. The idea that the conflict was suddenly over –
A far-off rumble drew his attention to the sky. He didn't know when the stone column had sprung from the city to impale the attacking airship, but he had no doubt it was the work of alchemy. Across the plaza, he thought he could see the outline of the ex-Lieutenant Colonel between two massive chunks of armor, so clearly Armstrong wasn't responsible for the monolithic structure that was now crumbling.
Al Elric. He knew of no one else that could transmute something so large so quickly.
Nor did he know of someone else who would be so unafraid of something that they'd never seen before. The walking dead, ships that seemed to fly on a platform of fire – surely this was also the work of alchemy? What else could it have been?
Heymans Breda watched the newly freed airship begin to lazily circle, wondering. If Alphonse Elric had been the one to impale it, the fact that it was now freed meant he had somehow gained access to it. He had probably ridden the column of stone to the top, and used it to place a hole in the great thing. Fuery and Falman still had their weapons trained toward the sky, and he followed suit after a moment.
It looked like a dragon, with that curved tail, the odd spires on the wings, the fire that propelled it through the sky. What if the attacking general was also a great alchemist? Could the younger, kinder of the Elrics defeat such a foe?
As it began a slow turn, he noted something past it, much higher in the sky. For a moment he thought it was another ship, but it was shaped like an elongated balloon . . . and there was a green symbol –
His eyes widened.
The flag over Central.
"The colonel . . ." he whispered.
Even if Alphonse Elric couldn't, Colonel Mustang could.
The ship began to fly back towards the city, towards the great hole it had first erupted from. Neither Falman nor Fuery gave an order, but they lowered their weapons, and the enlisted men around them followed suit. They watched in silence as the airship leveled out, and Breda was about to start an up close and personal inspection of the dead suits of armor when their Warrant Officer, Vato Falman, gestured back towards the sky.
"What do you make of that?"
Heymans turned his gaze back towards the sky in time to see a great chunk of the huge ship break away. The flames brightened, though, and the great dark dragon suddenly turned sharply towards the ground.
Elric and the colonel were taking it back where it came from.
"Should we –"
"No," he responded, glancing back towards his right. Havoc was there, extinguished cigarette glued to his probably dry lips, staring not at the retreating dragon but the sizable piece of debris it had shed. Was that due to the damage the two alchemists had done it, or was that . . .
Was that another weapon of some kind?
A shell exploded far short of the cube of debris, and several seconds later a sharp retort echoed across the broken façade of the plaza. It really was too clean of a shear to have fallen apart from damage to the ship, clearly it had been jettisoned on purpose –
And clearly, whichever armored unit Fuery had called to the plaza had come to the same conclusion.
He exchanged a look with Havoc. What if the colonel and Elric had managed to use alchemy to steer the dragon ship? What if –
What if they'd jettisoned themselves?
Well, then, surely a few shells wouldn't be a problem. Likely that first one had fallen short because the Colonel had seen and detonated it with alchemy. Considering he'd survived both the Ishbal war and his fight with the homunculus Fuhrer, it wasn't as though the Colonel was really in any danger, and likely Alphonse Elric could transmute the piece of debris into a parachute or something, they'd be fine –
Another explosion, much closer this time. Breda shook his head, blinking the sweat out of his eyes. He had seen a line of ignition in the air just prior to the shell's exploding, hadn't he?
Another, a beat later.
On the mark.
It took the sound of the blast almost five full seconds to reach them, but they'd already seen the cube shatter. It hadn't transmuted into anything. There hadn't been a blue shine indicating a transmutation circle. There hadn't been an ignition line before, then. Just a trick of his eyes. Obviously the falling chunk was just that, and even if it was a weapon, it was better they break it into smaller pieces so the debris didn't take out more of the city than it had to.
Heymans glanced over again at Jean, surprised when the Second Lieutenant raised his weapon again. He was using the sight, and Breda knew he was a fair shot. Of course, with Hawkeye in their midst it was often overlooked, but Jean Havoc knew his way around both pistols and rifles. He wouldn't be pointing it unless he intended to use it.
And he was pointing it at the falling fragments of dragon-ship.
The ever-present cigarette shifted uncharacteristically as the brownish-blonde man licked his lips.
"I think maybe we should've made Fuery call off the armors."
He was dropping the rifle fairly quickly, obviously trained on some target, but still he didn't shoot. From his position to the left of the marksman Breda could see that Jean was following one particular piece of the debris, and the closer it came, the more he realized it wasn't just a piece of metal or stone.
It was a person.
The limbs weren't flailing, and it was very hard to see without the magnification of a scope, but it was certainly not a suit of armor. Surely it wasn't Alphonse, he would have transmuted the falling remains around him by now. And it couldn't be –
It couldn't be the colonel.
He'd imagined the ignition line. Surely it wasn't Mustang.
"That's not one of ours, is it?"
Jean expelled his breath in an almost resigned attitude. He kept the rifle trained, lowering it slowly as his sighted target continued to plunge towards the city.
No, that was impossible. It couldn't be, it just couldn't –
Kain had caught part of their conversation. He poked his head out above the sandbags, but Breda didn't even spare him a look. "Havoc, what do you see?"
Jean didn't answer.
Just as the plummeting figure hit the line of damaged city buildings and fell from Breda's view, he was certain he saw a thin, brilliantly yellow line shoot towards the ground. He felt the rumble in the cobblestones beneath him before he even heard the explosion, but he waited, he waited until the dust from the strike floated hazily over the buildings and into view.
An explosion . . .
A body wouldn't make that kind of impact, no matter how fast it hit the ground.
He pushed himself to his feet, throwing the shoulderstrap of his machine gun over his neck and securing his sidearm. Second Lieutenant Havoc was already moving, leaping over the dead suits of armor. Falman and Fuery were exchanging glances, but Breda couldn't spare them his attention. All he could do was watch.
The rest of the shattered chunks of dragon-ship had fallen with the body, and their impacts made perceptible but faint vibrations as well. The accompanying sounds were much flatter, much quieter.
There was no doubt about it. It had been an explosion.
A moment later his legs were pumping, carrying him in hot pursuit of the sprinting lieutenant. He didn't remember making the decision to start running, but now that he was he was certain it was correct.
That had been the colonel.
He'd set off an explosion just before he'd hit the ground. To buffer his fall, use the shockwave to slow himself down . . .? But with the wreckage falling like that, he'd have been crushed. And it had been a hard-fought area, if any of those suits of armor were still active –
"Oy! Breda! Havoc!"
He never looked back.
- x -
Free State of Württemberg, 1924
"Nii-san . . . are you sure about this?"
He carefully kept the doubtful tones hidden, trying to pass the comment off as simple conversation. It was much easier with his new voice, which he supposed wasn't technically 'new' anymore since he'd had over a year to get used to it. What he'd missed were the several years' worth of puberty where his voice was supposed to gradually get deeper. He'd arrived on the other side of the Gate and there it had been, along with a seventeen year old's body and his missing memories.
Daily training had gotten him over the initial klutziness of his suddenly longer limbs, but he wasn't sure anything but time would help him adjust to the fact that he barely recognized his voice when he spoke.
Edward didn't seem to have the same trouble adjusting to it as he had, and in his heart he knew it was because Edward had sought out his 'Earth version,' as they liked to call them. The familiar faces and personalities they'd come to know and love in Amestris, living different but similar lives in this diverse continent called 'Europe.'
Edward had gotten used to the seventeen year old version of him, right before that boy had been killed sending Edward through the Gate back to Amestris. Back to Central.
Back to him.
And, incidentally, it was that Alfonse that was causing him to ask the question in the first place.
Edward was lying on his back in the narrow bed beside his, his flesh and blood arm thrown carelessly above his head. His right arm lay across his stomach, the automail fingers curling and uncurling in their new glove of flexible, flesh-colored rubber. They'd found a much better adhesive that made the fingers stick better to the automail joints, hiding the prosthetics much better than the previous glove had.
Incidentally, another reason they were having the conversation.
Ed was staring at the ceiling, but his golden eyes were looking far past it. "Don't worry, Al. I've got it all figured out."
"Where have I heard that before?" he quipped lightly, knowing the seriousness of the situation in which he had heard that before would sink in without any addition from his tone of voice. "The journals also mention American engineering, and their military is based in a democratic government. Surely their research is just as advanced –"
He resisted the urge to turn his head, preferring to stare at the ceiling as well. It was fairly cracked, thin white paint over ancient plaster, and if he squinted just right the pattern just to the left of the old brass light fixture looked sort of like Aunt Pinko.
He frowned softly at the ceiling. He hadn't seen her Earth version yet, and he was afraid he wouldn't. Many of the old had died in the previous war, so all-encompassing they had called it a 'world war.'
Incidentally, one of the reasons they probably couldn't travel to America. And probably one Ed would use the opportunity to remind him of.
"We can't go to America." He waved his automail hand casually. "For one, we don't have the money."
That was true. After the World War, Germany's main currency, the mark, had continued to plummet in value, and the current strike was not helping. Another reason why war was not far off. They were currently staying in southern Germany in the Weimar Republic, which happened to be the city the German National Government had moved their official seat after the events in Berlin. And even despite that, with the strike, commercial uses for their 'physics,' innovative as they were, were few and far between. No one would sponsor them to the point they could assemble anything useful.
Except, of course, the German Communist Republic. They were eager to get their hands on any new invention and weaponize it. And every other military in every surrounding country. While Prussia's Prime Minister seemed the only sane leader of the lot, he wasn't really sure Ed was leaning in the direction of Prussia. Poland seemed more stable.
"Well, we can't stay in Germany. The name Edward Elric is still music to the Thule society ears. They're still hunting us, nii-san," he reminded his brother.
He could actually hear the grin in his brother's voice when he replied. "Tringham is a very German-sounding name, don't you think, Herr Fletcher?"
Al thought it over from several angles. Then he gave up, and chuckled softly. "Getting them back for using our names, nii-san?"
"I seriously doubt we can get them in trouble here," Ed's voice was soft.
"There are many countries that have nothing to do with this war," he tried again.
"And how many of them are likely to have a use for that uranium bomb?" Ed's voice was even softer. "We didn't bring it here, but we can't ignore it."
"We'll have a hard time finding it from prison, nii-san."
Ed snorted, but didn't respond. Al sighed, and scanned the ceiling for any more familiar faces. "Even using their names, eventually someone will recognize you. The blonde hair will help us, but we inherited our Father's eyes . . ."
It was true that their hair color would get them boosted through the German military pretty swiftly. This 'perfect German race' talk seemed to push its way into all the mainstream entertainment, despite the fact that the majority of purebred Germans had dark hair and eyes. Their hair would just make them stand out more, not less.
Of course, standing out more would be exactly what it would take to get advanced to the point of attaining knowledge of the uranium bomb, assuming the German military had it. They didn't have much time before the discontent with the Treaty of Versailles and the strikes led to a massive boil-over within the villages of Germany itself. The entire country was almost vibrating with rage and insult, feeling both oppressed and underestimated.
It would only be a few years before malcontent in the land would spread across the borders, and they'd make the same mistakes all over again.
"What do you want to do, Al?"
The question came out of the blue, but he should have expected it. What he wanted, more than anything, was to quickly find the uranium bomb and spend the rest of his life here . . . learning. Growing. Finding a way to give back to Ed what he'd sacrificed for him. Again.
Of course, medical science just hadn't progressed far enough to grow him a new arm or leg, but very interesting articles involving the implanting of organs from one person into the body of another were being published, and should that research continue on, perhaps entire limbs were still an option. Of course, they wouldn't be Ed's original limbs, but they would be living, feeling limbs and wouldn't require him to hide his arm and leg in those sheets of fleshy rubber.
The idea of returning to Amestris was as far a dream to him now as finding the Philosopher's Stone had been when he was eleven. It would be nice, certainly, and if enough humans died in this place, there was even the chance they could catalyze a strong enough alchemic reaction to call the Gate. But he was just as determined as Ed that that would never happen.
And the biggest hurdle to stopping a war that would result in so many dead was finding that uranium bomb.
"I want to stop this war," he admitted, mostly to the ceiling. "To do that, we need to find the bomb. But after that . . . this world is so big, nii-san. We can't stop every war. Politics are even more complex here than they were back home. Too many governments, too many divided lands . . . we can't stop them all."
It was a long time before he got a response. "You're right," Ed agreed quietly. "But we're part of the reason that bastard was able to bring the bomb to the Gate, and part of the reason it was able to pass through. That's our responsibility to this world, Al. No matter what, we have to stop them from setting off that bomb."
Al found a pattern that looked very much like Black Hayate. "They have physicists here, nii-san. Eventually, they'll find uranium too." This world seemed to have all the same minerals that theirs did, so it truly was an eventuality they needed to consider. "What will we do then?"
Ed continued to open and close his automail fist. "We'll stop them from setting it off." He made it sound as though they'd made breakfast plans for the following morning. "This world is our world, Al. We can't just let it be someone else's problem."
"You're not a State Alchemist anymore, Edward." Al said it more forcefully than he really meant to, but once he heard it, he had no choice but to continue. "Even taking the name Tringham, even becoming dogs of this military – how will we become so important in this world that we can stop something like this? When this world is so fragmented, and the medals of one country mean nothing to another?"
Ed sighed softly. "Then we'll need to get medals in all the countries."
Oh. Of course. Al closed his eyes, enjoying the sound of Edward's soft, steady breaths. How many nights he'd lain awake in the Rockbell home, listening to Winry as she slept, wondering if that was how it sounded to sleep beside his brother. When his memories returned, he knew it was nothing like that sound, but it was a sound he couldn't get enough of. The memories of the time he had lived twice still collided in his head, and it was hard to separate a fear from one from the reality he'd learned in the other.
He knew what it felt like to lose Edward. He was not going to lose him in this world, where there was no Philosopher's Stone, even if he was willing to transmute it. There was no alchemy at all. No way to create a shield, he had no armor that would protect them in the nick of time. Here, they could be shot as easily as anyone else. Here, in a world where life was getting cheaper by the sunset.
It was this world Edward was proposing charging directly into without fear. Only Edward hadn't lived parts of his life twice. He had lived all his years but once, and sometimes Al wasn't sure he really realized he wasn't six feet tall and bulletproof. He was still a genius, but he wasn't globally recognized as one. The rank he'd enjoyed in Amestris was simply unattainable in this world, and thus all he knew of political tactics was fairly worthless.
And was that really true? Was it fair for him to think that he'd so easily become familiar with this world when his brother had spent twice as much time here?
"Do you really believe the German military still has the bomb?"
Ed just snorted. "I saw the photograph, Al. How many times do I have to tell you?"
Al left his eyes closed. "As many times as it takes, Herr Russell."
- x -
Author's Notes: After devouring the anime in less than a week and the movie shortly thereafter, I discovered something. I was mostly satisfied with the end of the anime. The anime didn't make me want to start writing FMA fanfic. The movie totally did. It's a giant gaping . . . invitation to be fixed. And you guys know me and trying to fix being left unsatisfied with a story.
The purpose of this fic is to clean up a few gaping plotholes, including why Al and Ed can pass through the Gate so many times without getting seriously screwed up, what happened to the gate on Amestris, how alchemy actually works on Earth, and motives of the Gate itself. Haven't read the manga yet, which I understand fixes a few of these problems, but I do fully intend to someday. If there were some other plotholes you guys noticed in the movie that need to be cleaned up, remind me! I'll fix everything all pretty and shiny. Despite this bleak beginning, expect everything to come up roses.