NOTE: For some reason, a notification about Chapter 18 was not automagically sent out. I posted two chapters this evening – 18 and 19. This is 19. You need to read 18 first, or you will be confused.

Just so you know.

- Mitai

- x -

This is the Notes section, which I figured I'd post because I thought it might be helpful to others to see how I organized things.

The first parts are all bits of scenes that required rewriting or got trashed along the way, and towards the end is the timeline I constructed and the lists of everyone's new ranks so I wouldn't forget them and have to go trolling back through my own fic to find them.

It should be noted that the outline and the production fic are two very different things - that showed the progression of idea to finished product, which maybe explains why I originally thought it was going to be short and sweet and ended up writing a novel. I figured that might be useful to others, too, because I'm sure I'm not the only one that starts a fic with one idea in mind and has the thing change significantly before all is said and done.

So enjoy the bits and if you ever need to borrow the timeline, the early parts are canonical to the anime, and should be pretty complete.

Thanks for sticking with me while I retardedly tried to fix the movie! It was a blast, and I hope you had as good a time as I did.

- Mitai

- x -

Unfinished/Rewritten/Deleted Scenes:

- x -

She didn't even hesitate as she raised the rifle to her face, bracing herself in case Breda couldn't catch himself in time. She'd meant to call out, but her voice was gone, her heart was far too high in her throat to allow her to say anything at all.

She was sure if she did, it would be a scream.

She hadn't seen it. She hadn't seen it. Her eyes were tired from the strain and the battle and the gunpowder, and she'd seen it because she'd wished for it. That was all.

It wasn't a sniper's rifle that Breda carried, much closer to an automatic machinegun than anything else, but it still had a sight, albeit a non-adjustable one. Her eyes were good enough without her normal scope, though, and she barely registered the crash behind her that signaled Breda's encounter with the ground. She scanned each piece carefully before moving onto the next, then the next – he'd be spreading his limbs to increase wind resistance if he was still conscious –

He was.

She tried to speak, but realized that she'd stopped breathing. All she could do was watch. She couldn't get a good enough view with the scope, could make out his arms and legs and face, but not his expression. His hair was dancing frantically and obscuring his features, but she could make out that eyepatch, the way he was calmly relaxed. So he was calm, he'd expected this –

She wanted to search, to make sure Alphonse wasn't with him, but she couldn't take her eye from him. In only a few more seconds he'd fall from view, and then it wouldn't matter –

She tried to call out, she really did. He wouldn't hear her, just as he hadn't heard her before. She'd been too late to retreat to the atrium, to climb in that gondola with him. Just as he was nearly even with the horizon, she saw him arrogantly raise his right hand in front of his face, in the same motion she'd seen from him a thousand times before, and then her view was obstructed by the nearest building.


She dropped the rifle; it was useless now, she couldn't see. He'd fallen only a few blocks away, a mile at most. She could be there in seven minutes tops if she ran.

Seven minutes too late.

The ground trembled slightly beneath her feet even before the distant sound of an explosion reached her ears, and it was the only sound she heard as she began sprinting towards it. He'd used his alchemy one last time, but why? The fall would have killed him, was he trying to destroy his own body . . .? Or –

Or was he trying to save it?

After the blast, she heard nothing at all. Not her own breath, not her pulse, not the sound of her feet as she flew over the dead in their strange suits of armor. Her boots were sure despite the dust and the smoke and the slick blood, and while the battle had changed the landscape of the city, most of the main streets were still clear enough to pass. Her path took her directly by the military hospital, its wide stone stairs cracked nearly in half by the massive earthquakes.

Oh, how she'd wished he'd never set foot in that place again. How long he remained bedridden in that hospital, staring out the window with that blind eye of his. The one she felt she'd given him, by not taking care of Archer in time.

She'd wished with all her heart that he'd never have to smell the antiseptics, never have to again bear the pain his physical therapy had caused him. But now she regretted that wish, and made another in its place.

Let him survive to walk those stairs again.

- x -

He registered the footsteps, too close and obviously not armor, but it didn't slow him down. Rarely did Breda fight with a gun, preferring to toss grenades at distance, but he was still a trained soldier, and he was still in the middle of a combat zone. He'd turned and already had the rifle trained when it was wrenched cleanly out of his hands.

He sprang forward to follow it, registering too late that the hands that had taken it were attached to arms in the blue uniform of Amestris. Her hair was mostly hidden in her combat helmet, but he knew who it was just by the way she'd spun and raised the rifle, using its scope. He wrenched himself to the left, unable to stop his leap at her but at least able to dodge her, and he sprawled very gracelessly into the rubble a foot behind her.

First Lieutenant Hawkeye didn't so much as glance his way. By the time he'd rolled painfully to his side, she'd taken a combat stance, the scope to her eye and the rifle pointed towards the falling debris. Her shoulders were rigid and squared, and she was holding her breath.

She was going to fire? But surely she could see that the armored units had already destroyed whatever it was. She'd lost her own sniper's rifle at some point; it was no longer strapped to her back, so that was why she'd taken –

She was dropping the rifle fairly quickly, obviously trained on some target, but she didn't shoot. His position on the ground behind her allowed him to see that she 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.

Hawkeye shakily expelled her held breath, and his horrified ears heard the word colonel in it.

No, that was impossible. It couldn't be, it just couldn't –

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, and he ignored the clatter of his rifle hitting the ground, ignored Hawkeye's sudden sprinting, until the dust from the explosion 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, ignoring a small piece of rubble that cut deeply into his palm. Lieutenant Hawkeye was already halfway across the plaza, leaping over the dead suits of armor, and Jean Havoc was staring after her with a suddenly exhausted look on his face.

The rest of the flaming debris was starting to hit the ground as well, and some of the smaller chunks began to hiss into the plaza rubble.

"Miss Hawkeye!" a thunderous voice called, and the shirtless and enormous form of Alex Louis Armstrong shot past Breda. A moment later his legs were pumping, too. He didn't remember making the decision to start running.

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 debris falling, he'd get crushed. So would Riza, she hadn't even redrawn her handgun, if any of those suits of armor were still active –

"Lieutenant!" he shouted.

She never looked back.

- x -

Breda rubbed the back of his neck as he slung himself into the chair on the other side of her rather intimidating mahogany desk.

"I have bad news, then I have worse news. Then I have possibly the best worst news you've ever heard."

Colonel Riza Hawkeye didn't look up from the document she was perusing. He'd have just come right out and said if one of the brothers had died. It was still hard for her to think of them as 'brothers' instead of 'boys,' but then again, she thought of all of the officers that worked in the Major General's office, that were of the male persuasion, as boys.

These were all her boys, regardless of their ages. She and Sheska had to take care of them, because they were completely incapable of taking care of themselves.

Adding Ed and Al back to that group would be unexpected, but not at all unpleasant.

So it was really more of a difficulty thinking of them as men instead of children.

Ed and Al would always be the children that never got to be. From the moment she'd seen him, Edward Elric had always behaved like an adult, and Alphonse had always been treated as one because of the armor. Now it was too late for both of them. They were truly grown. Alphonse, much more than Edward. He looked almost a decade older than he had when he'd left, he looked almost the same age Edward did.

Maybe going through the Gate . . . twice, now, since she'd last seen him, had somehow aged him? Maybe the age of his soul had causes his body to race to catch up?

"I'll take the best worst news first," she finally addressed the officer in front of her, glancing at the second page of the document. Breda wasn't really even looking at her, so she knew her split attention wasn't bothering him.

"One of Hakuro's boys worked in the lab with Frettley, and notified Parliament about the bomb and where it came from."

. . . rats.

Hawkeye let the document fall back to her desk, rubbing the bridge of her nose. "What else?"

Breda pursed his lips. "The thing is a bomb, designed by some scientist named Huskisson-"

"Physicist," she corrected. "Sheska already dug up that information from a report Edward Elric filed with the major general some years ago. Apparently the physicist also dabbled in alchemy and attempted human transmutation an in effort to escape the Elric brothers."

Breda just nodded. "Not only is it a bomb, but it's supposedly powerful enough to destroy Central. The entire thing," he added. "There's no doubt Parliament is going to want to study something like that."

She just nodded. Damn. They'd been trying to keep research on the odd object Edward and Alphonse had brought back with them quiet, on the off chance it was something like the Philosopher's Stone, and better left unexplored.

- x -

Of course, she'd also spent the last three days sitting with both the brothers, but mostly with Al, because Ed was still sedated. She'd need him awake when she fitted the automail, to make sure he could still manipulate it, but once she'd gotten his measurements, she'd been working in Al's room. Half because the alchemists were there, and half because Al was starting to wake up.

And yet, as far as she'd heard, he'd yet to utter a word. He'd not so much as lifted his arm. They knew with the massive blood loss and the elapsed time, that the doctors were afraid that Alphonse Elric was simply never going to be the same, having suffered too much damage. She'd known that Roy felt the same way when she'd returned with the envelope to find him with a piece of cinder in his hand, finishing a transmutation circle around the young man.

She really wasn't sure that he wasn't as good at healing alchemy as the Tringum brothers, but there was no doubt they'd had more practice. He'd done what he could to keep Al alive until the ambulance had arrived, and hastily poured the Red Stone pieces back into the small envelope. The envelope they'd passed onto the Tringums as soon as they'd arrived.

But all the Red Stone was gone. And she was tempted to dig in the ruins of the Fifth Laboratory for more, at this point. The terrible hole in his throat was now completely gone, just a red mark on his otherwise unblemished skin. The bulletwound no longer needed to be wrapped at all. But she knew that internally, he hadn't fully healed. While he was starting to stay awake longer, he seemed unable to much besides look at them.

- x -

Which meant they were going to have to go over every inch of it, reconstructing as they went.

Which was something he couldn't have done with Al's armor, because it would have meant changing the blood seal on Al's armor, thus releasing his soul and effectively killing him.

And there was no doubt a human soul was not affixed to a flesh and blood body the same way.

This was going to be dangerously close to human transmutation.

"That's okay." Ed hooked his left arm over the edge of the cart, and was all set to hoist his right leg over when strong arms wrapped around his bare chest.

"I told you not to do that, stupid."

Getting out was almost as graceless as getting in, but soon Ed found himself half lying on his right hip, trying to get the weight off the left stump. Winry had laid a few blankets down to pad him, but he gladly would have sat on the stump itself.

"Fletcher. I need you to draw this." The fact that he was having to draw the circle at all bothered him, but there was no time to get his arm attached. It would take hours, and now that they knew what might be wrong with Al, he wasn't going to leave his brother trapped in his own body like that for one more second than was necessary.

"Ed –"

"You two can do this, right?"

The Tringums glanced at each other, then at Al. "Probably, yes," Fletcher offered from the floor, "but we can't-"

"I know how to keep his soul affixed to his body." Al was shaking Winry's mechanism again but Ed ignored him. "The three of us will do this."

The Tringums exchanged glances again, and then looked back at Al. He was still vehemently shaking his hand 'no.'

"Al." He paused, looking over the circle Fletcher was copying from his sketch. "If we don't do this, you'll be like . . . like you are now, until you die."

Al stopped moving, then shook his hand again, once.


"You'll be like sensei." Constantly sick, constantly needing treatments just to keep surviving.

Ed turned towards the Tringums. "If you don't want to be involved, I'll do it myself."

- x -

He didn't even hear the words. All he saw were the lines of black, stretching towards them. The pairs of eyes, all so different, watching.


They went for Ed first. They always went for Ed first.

"NO!" If nii-san thought he was going to stand idly by, he truly didn't remember anything.

Al threw himself at his brother's back, catching the shorter man easily around the head and his outstretched right arm. The scar from the foxbite was still there, just as large as it had looked on another, all those years ago. It was truly the same arm, and it had grown to the proper length as though it had always been there. Just as his seventeen year old body had been as though he had lived in it all seventeen years.

He stared at the scar, barely having time to really see it before the Gate had them.

Tiny, greedy hands trailed across his body, winding around his waist, his arms, his neck. Snakelike, but somehow flat, somehow neither warm nor cold. More of them than he remembered before, though. He couldn't even see through them, couldn't warn the Tringums to stay back.

They were . . . somehow behind them. They had been part of the transmutation circle, so it followed they were – here. At the Gate.

But further from it than nii-san and he. They were almost a safe distance, if there was such a thing.

Light pierced his tightly-shut eyes, and Alphonse Elric dared to open them. To see where they were going. Back to Earth, probably, but at what cost? And where? To London? They had no doppelgangers to draw their souls, this time. Would they just appear right back where they started?

But as his eyes opened, he realized he didn't see blinding light streaming by. It was the same, foggy golden world that existed just outside the Gate. The arms were withdrawing.

Just like they had when he'd been on the airship, hidden in the armor. Except in the airship, they hadn't touched him.

He still had his brother in half a headlock, and he was still hanging onto an arm. Disbelievingly, Al pushed himself away even as Ed tried to shake him off.

Ed still had a right arm.

There was no port there anymore. No metal, no stump.

Al took a step back, glancing down. Ed still had two legs.

What the hell . . . ? What had made the Gate release them?

Dread plunged his insides into ice water, and Al whirled, trying to find the Tringums. What had Russell done? Surely Fletcher wouldn't have let him do anything stupid –

Fletcher was hanging onto Russell for dear life, and the older brother was struggling with all his might – to come to them. He was trying to get to them.

"Stay back!" he bellowed, turning to look back at Ed.

- x -

It all happened so fast.

One moment he was struggling as hard as he could to cling to himself, to the feeling of the floor beneath his skin, the feeling of his fingernails digging into his palms. But it was a losing battle, and he couldn't move his jaw, couldn't tell them to hurry –

And the same quiver ran up his spine. Like it had when he'd fallen onto the transmutation circle.

There is where it was affixed. That spot exactly.

That was the place and the moment his soul left his body. And when he looked up, there was the Gate waiting for him. Just like it had before.

And there was Ed. Just beside him, maybe half a step ahead. The scar from the fox bite was readily visible, and the arm was exactly the right length. As though it had grown with his body instead of being torn off Wrath and cast into the Gate more than six years ago. Just as his seventeen year old body had been as though he had lived in it all seventeen years.

Al chanced a glance around him, noting the two figures to his right, and far behind. Somehow further from the gate, almost a safe distance, if there was such a thing.

They'd brought them here. Russell and Fletcher were now going to have to pay a price, as they had. No one could see the Gate without paying that price.

No one except him.

"When I told you my soul detached easily, I was serious." It was a little bitter, which he didn't really mean, but –

When was Ed going to accept that he wasn't going to let nii-san die for him?

Probably the same day he accepted that nii-san wouldn't let him do the same.

So, never.

Ed's face was lowered, his eyes closed. Behind them, Al could hear a scuffling sound, followed by Fletcher's stunned voice.


He didn't seem to be able to find the words.

Ed apparently didn't need any. He simply started walking forward.

Towards the Gate.

He was going to do the same thing he'd done, all those years ago. Sacrifice himself for them.

Al moved to grab him, but suddenly Ed's arm blocked his way.

"I'm sorry." Ed sounded so weary. "I didn't catch it in time."

As if he could have.

There was an impossibly heavy, earthen creaking, and Alphonse watched in horror as darkness began pouring out of the Gate. The lines of black, stretching towards them. The pairs of eyes, watching.


They went for Ed first. They always went for Ed first.

"NO!" If nii-san thought he was going to stand idly by, he truly didn't remember anything at all.

Al threw himself at his brother's back, catching the shorter man easily around the head and his outstretched right arm. Ed didn't even have time to try to shake him off before the Gate had them.

Tiny, greedy hands trailed across his body, winding into the spaces between him and Edward. Just like the time he'd stowed away in the armor, they didn't touch him. His flesh didn't start glowing, didn't start flaking apart into base molecules. The tiny hands covered the scar on Edward's shoulder, inching between his brother and his arms.

Loosening his grip.

"No!" He wouldn't let go of him, couldn't. Even as tiny little black fingers coiled over his, prying them up at the fingernail. As a little child might pry at the hands of an adult hiding something good to eat.

"Al." His voice was calm. As though he wasn't, literally, cocooned in the black denizens of the Gate. "Let go."

"NO!" His arms were no longer touching Ed – he was clinging only to the darkness now. "ED!"

Other arms snaked out of the Gate, taking Ed from the ones that separated them. The hands never grabbed Al, they merely formed a retreating barrier that prevented him from touching his brother. It seemed only an instant before the struggle was over.

"EDWARD!" Russell's voice cracked with the volume.

The black lines retreated with an audible giggle, and the eyes kept watching, laughing as the Gate's doors swung solidly closed.

Al found himself running towards the Gate before his brain realized what a bad move it really was. He could pull it open, pull Edward out. It wasn't too late, he was still in there –

Desperately, he clapped his hands, completing the circle, and flattened them

"Give him back!" he screamed, pouring all his resolve into the words. "We don't owe you anything! Give him back!"

- x -

No one had heard the door open, but all eyes turned to see a rather unkempt-looking major general standing in his office door. His uniform jacket was half unbuttoned, though not nearly as completely as Breda's, and there were dark circles under his eyes. Heymans knew he'd been holed up in his office for the better part of the night, and he'd been there since they arrived, but he wasn't sure Mustang could really account for all his time last night. Unless someone had been in the office to see him –

Then again, he really wasn't completely, entirely sure that Mustang was responsible for this. For one, if he'd somehow rigged the bomb, he was pretty sure Hawkeye would have shot him by now for taking the risk. Even if it had been successful.

Besides, how do you rig something like that? Was the bomb simply a dud? Wouldn't there be evidence that it had been tampered with, even if he was an alchemist?

Hakuro just glared at him, and Mustang glared right back. "To what do I owe the pleasure?" He neither saluted nor addressed Hakuro respectfully, and the general bristled.

"I know you're responsible for this, Mustang," he spat. "And I'll prove it."

Roy just tucked his hands into his pockets, leaning comfortably against the doorjamb. "I'm afraid I don't know what you mean," he responded in that infuriatingly arrogant tone. "I left the hospital and came straight here. The guards at the base entrance can tell you as much. After you left, Alphonse briefly woke, and was able to explain the technique he and Edward Elric used to destroy the gate on their side after the Thule invasion. I've just been confirming that it should have been sufficient enough to prevent it from being opened again –"

"Preposterous! If that was so, how did they return?" Ah, so Hakuro's idea now was to discredit the Elric brothers by making it seem as though their return had thoughtlessly endangered Central once again?

"The Law of Equivalent Exchange," Mustang replied. "The last of the invading forces died in custody a few weeks ago. Since we no longer had that side's forces, ours were returned as well. Alphonse Elric had transmuted a piece of his soul into one of the armors in my hallway when he and Edward speared the commanding airship four years ago, so his soul was drawn back to a place it had previously occupied –"

"Enough of this!" Clearly Hakuro wasn't in the mood to be lectured on the finer points of alchemy. And even to Breda's albeit ignorant ears, that sounded like a load of shit. He didn't know how Ed and Al had managed to return, and it probably did have something to do with the fact that Alphonse had once transmuted the suit of armor in the hallway, but the rest of it . . . the time discrepancy, for example . . . Not that the General would ever ask, of course. Mustang could make this stuff up all morning and the rest of the military would take it as law.

Pity Hakuro had slowly weeded out all the National Alchemists under his command. If he hadn't spent the last four years holding them responsible for his failure to defeat . . well, Havoc, during the Northern Rebellion, he'd have someone on his side that could call Mustang out.

Mustang just raised an eyebrow. "Sir, every second of my time in the last sixty-two hours can be accounted for," he stated. "How could I have possibly had anything to do with the unfortunate accident this morning? I wholeheartedly support our forces in the North, and am actively looking for ways to end those rebellions. Sabotaging a theoretically powerful weapon for political gain is not in the country's best interest." He pushed off the doorframe, coming to stand in the main room with his officers.

- x -

She eyed the shining piece of steel and chrome, and her expression, as usual, was sour.

His heart sank.

"Those were the ingredients you gave me-"

"I shouldn't have to tell you that heat changes a metal." Granny's voice was as rough as usual, though her tone was patient. "Can't you heat it before you shape it, or at least change it so it takes on the characteristics of folded metal?"

Al dragged a hand across his face, eventually palming his chin and sighing into it. "Well, do you have an example of steel that's been folded three hundred times?"

The old, somehow tiny woman snorted indelicately, and tottered over to a workbench. It was . . . unthinkable, in the four or five years since he'd last seen her, that Grandma Pinako would have gotten . . .

Well . . .


"And here Winry was bragging about how useful you alchemists were," she grumbled, bending before an old desk drawer. Al barely ducked in time to avoid being clobbered in the head with a scrap piece of metal, and despite Pinako's unhurried movements, a frightening number of projectiles were hurtling from that drawer.

"Well, she didn't have her drill press –" He decided to move, rather than risk being hit again. "- or her big files, so it was the Tringums or nothing."

The old woman half-straightened, turning back to him and taking several strides before she was no longer stooped.

"I suppose you're better than nothing," she admitted, "but honestly, Alphonse, alchemists are just too perfect. Real metallurgy doesn't mix steel and chrome so completely, and it's the fact that there's more chrome on the surface that makes a good mixture."

Al accepted the nugget of shiny silver metal from his 'granny,' turning it over in his hands. He briefly tucked it between his teeth as he brought his hands together, and then he took it back in them and formed it into a perfect cylinder.

The act of reshaping it required him to disassemble it, thus showing him the characteristics of thrice-hundred folded steel.

- x -

to test the effectiveness of sulphur dioxide as a means to kill people rather than the more common diesel exhaust? That the very doctor he had been working under for seven months, the one obsessed with Napoleon, had simply been trying to substantiate claims that the Frenchman had been using that gas to kill rebellious slaves in the early 1800s?

He'd never perform thoughtless alchemy again, but not saving a life when he could would be equally wrong.

- x -

Al took a deep, relaxed breath, and released it slowly. Then he stiffened. "Hey, nii-san, before we left, did you get any further on the electron theory?"

Ed blinked, momentarily side-tracked. "Oh, particles versus waves?"

Al nodded. "It'll be harder to prove here, that electrons are the equivalent trade."

Ed rubbed his chin, noting the stubble there. He'd forgotten to shave; he needed to do that before they arrived at Granny Pinako's, or she'd –

Well, it didn't matter. He could grow a beard if he wanted to. He didn't care what she thought of it. Since he was no longer a dog of the military, it wasn't like he had to follow the Germans' ridiculous requirements. If they'd maintained their troops properly, there wouldn't have been a lice problem to start –

"We should see some evidence of them disappearing. Or perhaps a lack of one of their forms."

"Ugh, we'd have to build all that equipment from scratch." Al leaned off the doorframe, cocking his head down the hallway.


He frowned, apparently listening, and Ed glanced at the hollow armor laying on the bed beside the clothes bag. He knew he'd have to put it on for the train-ride, but it pinched his elbow every time he bent it more than forty degrees, to the point a patch of his skin was rubbed quite raw.

- x -

"I think that should do it."

Aunt Pinako eyed him up and down critically, her hands behind her back and her pipe steady. He'd seen that look before, though not in many years, and it still made him feel the need to impress her.

Regretfully, he probably only looked as slightly different to her as she did to him. He was, perhaps, three or four inches taller. But more than tall, at least he'd filled out. Gone was the skinny, wiry kid that had glared about level with her.

Now he stood in that place. Glaring very pointedly down.

And where a wrinkled, strong old woman used to regard him in her hunter green dress and faded but clean white apron, there stood a slightly more stooped version, sporting the same gravity-defying, pointy, steel grey bun and straightpipe.

He supposed he couldn't fault her for wearing her work clothes, and having them unchanged. He himself was sporting a black tunic with a white-trimmed jacket, black trousers, combat boots, and red overcoat. His braid was in place, though a bit longer, and he'd shortened his bangs a little. He figured if he had to return to Central as the Fullmetal Alchemist, he might as well look the part.

As for the 'Panthress of Resembool,' she was old enough to wear whatever the hell she pleased.

Ed tried not to smirk as they played their 'who's gonna blink first' game. He always lost, and wasn't planning on changing that anytime soon. They'd deal with changes enough when they got to Central. Apparently he really was that famous, now. He was going to have to hit the restored First Library and see exactly which of his writings had been entered in as texts. Possibly his first project would be re-writing all of them.

Ed broke eye contact first to glance at his approaching brother, and he resisted the urge to sigh.

More changes. Probably for the better, though.

Al was coming down the stairs, shrugging a medium brown overcoat over his cream-colored button-up shirt, and visibly attempted to ignore his brother. His slightly darker blonde hair had been pulled back in a loose ponytail, and his five-o'clock shadow was getting more pronounced. He and Al hadn't discussed it, mainly because it didn't need to be discussed, but Al was probably going to grow a beard.

Well, if he wanted to look like pops, that was fine. Considering Al's record of clothing, Ed was a little surprised that he even knew how to pick out anything original at all. He'd had his clothes picked out by his mother until he was ten. Then his older brother had picked out the single suit of armor he got to wear for a few years, until he reverted back to a human and emulated pictures of his brother until he was seventeen. After that, he wore a series of generic work clothes followed by a government issue uniform.

And after all, while the color scheme reminded him very much of Hohenheim, the clothes themselves were a good deal less . . . dandy. He'd picked up some sense of style somewhere. The ivory button-up was practical and made out of a good traveling fabric, and it also gave him a more welcoming image. His trousers weren't much different than Ed's, actually, save they were the same color brown as his duster. Which wasn't exactly like their father's, either; more pockets, for one, and a more weather-resistant fabric as well. His boots weren't combat boots, necessarily, but they were hiking shoes and water-repellant.

And at least he hadn't put on glasses. Ed wasn't even sure their father had needed them.

Ed just raised an eyebrow, and Al finally gave up, and looked at him. His expression was so hopeful Ed barked out a laugh.

"Huh," was all he said, but Al grinned.

"Not bad," Pinako murmured as Al came to stand beside his brother. It was just as high of praise as Ed had given. "The two of you look almost respectable."

"An illusion that'll last about ten seconds," Winry murmured darkly from the doorway. "You two are lucky one of our clients is a tailor of that caliber, or you'd be arriving in Central looking for clothes."

"Speaking of which," Al murmured, glancing up at the sun, "we should be heading out."

The ever so slightly more stooped Aunt Pinako just raised her eyebrows, and brought one hand in front of her to take the pipe out of her mouth.

"Behave. An occasional call would be nice. I packed your lunch." She glanced at their feet, where a nice basket lay next to their new suitcases. "Have a good trip." Then she clamped the pipe back between her teeth and headed back to the porch, where Den was waiting. He'd seen them leave before, and was getting too old to bounce around like the puppy they all knew he still was. Inside, anyway.

Ed smirked, and glanced at Winry as she trudged down the porch stairs towards them. "I'll try not to break it the first day."

She just raised one eyebrow. "Knock yourself out," she replied. "I'm going to Central tomorrow for the inauguration. I'll be sure to bring a spare everything."

"I still don't see why we can't claim you transmuted the automail into a real arm and leg," Al muttered. "The way Fuery made it sound, everyone's going to think you still have the Philosopher's Stone anyway."

Ed ignored him. If that was true, they'd only keep believing it for the first ten minutes he was in the city. After that, everyone who didn't believe him when he said he would kill the next person to transmute one would be hurting.

Winry was looking more at Al than him, and Ed simply bent and picked up his suitcase. They really hadn't said . . . well, anything about the conversation they'd had in the basement. No one mentioned it during meals, during the refittings, the training . . . it was like they'd all agreed that it hadn't happened. He was wondering what she and Al had discussed in the twenty or so minutes they'd been down there, but all Al would say was that she yelled at him for being stupid, and he'd agreed, and then she'd told him a little about what had been happening in Central.

And Mustang's last little stab at them, on the off chance they could ever return –

"You've got that look again," Winry noted, and Ed straightened, carefully schooling his expression. She narrowed her eyes. "And that one."

Ed looked towards Al as innocently as he could. "So, let's go already."

Al glanced between the two of them before he also bent and picked up both the suitcase and the basket. "Bye, Aunt Pinako! Bye, Den! And I guess we'll see you tomorrow."

Pinako was now standing on the porch, and just inclined her head. Den wagged his tail. Winry gave a little wave.

"No sparring," she added. "Not even a little bit."

Ed rolled his eyes. As if they'd spar on the train. Although, he was expecting to have to put that armor to use pretty soon, considering the reception they were likely to get at the platform. Oh, he looks just like he did before, how cute! Look, his little brother is still taller than he is! I bet he's still wearing the same automail!

"She's right, you do have that look," Al murmured to him as they turned to leave.

"What look?"

"The same look you always got before inspection, prior to your becoming a doctor, and you knew they were going to hassle you about your hair."

Ed found himself grinning. Yeah, he hadn't been too fond of that either.

Beside him, Al took a deep breath. "God, I'm glad this world isn't industrialized yet."

"No such thing as God," Ed reminded him, but he, too, looked. He'd been looking all during training, actually. Hours and hours of forms, staring out at the hills, practicing with these new almost-limbs. They felt nearly alive, almost like automail. But he couldn't use them that way; they were padded, but his arms still took some of the pressure of blows against them. His previous automail had hurt if it was ripped off, or badly damaged, but usually it just . . .felt weird during combat. In the past, it hadn't actually pained him to catch a sword with his forearm.

He was going to have to get used to the idea that if he used this stuff carelessly, it was actually going to hurt. Breaking the arm inside the armor wouldn't be the end of the world, he could still use it to fight, but it wasn't automail.

For one thing, his arm never used to sweat inside itself. That was going to take some getting used to.

But if it had to sweat, he was glad it sweat under this sun. This sky. Resembool would never be their home, never again. But he was glad, no matter where they went now, they would always be under this same sky.

Some of the constellations had looked different on Earth. That was something he'd never been able to figure out. Human life was so similar, but the universe itself so vastly different. Before Al had come back with him, he'd stare at the deep blue sundrenched sky and think of this place, this world. He'd feel warmth on his face, and he'd be hopeful that he'd find a way.

And he'd see those foreign stars, looking up on those nights that never seemed to end, and the loneliness ached worse than automail.

It was still pretty early in the morning, and the dew was preventing any dust from being kicked into the clean dawn air. Smog would come to dirty this sky, and with it all the machines and conveniences and the hustle of that world. But not yet. For now, like Al had had once before, he had a chance to experience everything again, one more time. Before it changed.

Ed shook his head at himself. He was actually looking forward to getting back to Central, getting into the swing of things. Too much time out here thinking was bad for his brain.

He was ready for work. And he needed it. Needed it more than the whimsical thought in the back of his mind, that, even though he knew it could never happen, when they'd once wished to see their mother's smile, one last time -

She'd be smiling at them now.

"You coming?"

Ed glanced at his brother, suddenly realizing that he'd never actually started walking. He stared at this new Al, this National Alchemist of a brother he had, and he sighed.

This really was a new beginning for him. The first time Al, with all his memories, would walk into Central with his body. Putting forth the image he wished to put forth, instead of the armor, or an image he'd superimposed on himself. The first time he'd choose to face all those people as he was now. The hospital probably counted, but considering he couldn't speak until the end, and Mustang had kept his officers out of the picture -

That reminded him. It was probably going to be harder to pick a fight with Mustang, now that he'd have guards all the time. What a pain.

Ed took a few steps, the same steps he'd taken a dozen times before, down the same road, with the same gravel rocks that it had had for the last fifty or so years. This was how so many of their journeys had started, for better or worse. He still remembered exactly many steps it took to get to the station. But now that his stride was longer, he'd have to count them again.

Ed hesitated, then stopped dead in his tracks, plopping the suitcase down on those familiar little rocks. Then he sighed again.

Stupid brain. He couldn't wait to get to work.

When nothing happened, other than Al pausing to look at him curiously, Ed looked back over his shoulder. He wasn't surprised to find Winry waiting exactly where she'd been before. Where she'd always been.

But now his stride was longer.

All three of their strides had changed. It was time to start counting things again, instead of taking them for granted.

"Winry, we're going to miss the train."

She stared at him uncomprehendingly a moment, something biting already on the tip of her tongue, and he didn't let his expression change as he watched realization dawn. Of course, he supposed he could have been clearer about the invitation, but he didn't really need to, and Al was probably going to give him a hard time as it was –


She turned immediately, but carefully didn't hurry up the porch steps, and her mutters about 'inconsiderate' and 'no time to pack' carried just far enough that he could hear there was no venom in them.

Once she was safely in the house, Al set down his load as well. He put his hands in his pockets, watching Aunt Pinako on the porch. The woman didn't appear moved by the sudden change in plans, just stood there with her round-lensed glasses reflecting the perfect day back at them.

"We really might miss the train, you know."

Ed leaned all his weight on his armored leg, testing the balance again. "I know." She knew everything, now. Or near enough. Probably more than any living soul besides the two of them. "Her choice to come along anyway. Be rude not to wait for her."

Al just nodded, then he laughed.

Ed just stared at the Rockbell house. "What's so funny?"

"Nothing," his brother responded immediately.

Edward Elric waited impatiently for the blonde with the suitcase three times his size to eventually emerge from the house. "New journeys, right, Al? No sense making the same mistake right from the start."

If it had been a mistake to keep her at a distance, if they all regretted it that much,

- x -

"Well, we got him into it, but there was a little whining," Kain admitted, offering a pocket-sized clipboard. "The alterations were correct, but he said the collar made his head look like a mushroom."

"If he would cut his hair occasionally . . ." Sheska's voice was slightly muffled by her bent position, comparing her list to the cardboard rectangles spread on the table before her.

Havoc was straightening his stripes and frowning at the silver waterpitcher that was doubling as his mirror. "You didn't tell him his head always looked like a mushroom?"

The colonel accepted the outstretched clipboard, and mentally ticked another item off her list as she observed all the boxes, neatly checked. The Prime Minister was officially dressed, at any rate.

Well, no, he could be standing in his boxers protesting his new uniform, but at least he had all the pieces of it in his office. "Speaking of mushrooms, did Breda ever settle the hors d'oeuvres with the caterers?"

"I don't know, ma'am," Fuery responded, accepting the clipboard back with a salute. "I'll find out right away!"

"No hurry," she replied, eyeing the ballroom hall turned loitering area. All corners were clear, all tables were arranged in neat and symmetrical patterns across the floor, and there were no places to hide. Besides, any assassin would be an idiot for thinking the State Alchemists' reception was a good place to blend in.

Next agenda – check on Falman. He'd been placed in charge of the parade grounds and the lawns. She and Jean had put their own sharpshooters in the best nests, but there were always the utility tunnels that ran beneath the Parliament House, and of course the access corridors that led to the telecommunications hubs. There was no need to doubt that the second lieutenant was doing his job, but they'd assigned him some enlisted that she wasn't sure were capable of tying their shoes, let alone securing something so huge.

This was a logistical nightmare. They'd never had this to-do with the Fuhrer, since no one dared try such an open act of aggression –

Not that it would have mattered, of course. In Bradley's case, at any rate.

Hawkeye paused, and then smiled slightly. "Fuery, I don't suppose you checked the Prime Minister for an ouroboros tattoo when you delivered his uniform, did you?"

Beside the refreshment table, Havoc laughed low in his throat. "That's not funny, colonel."

Sheska didn't look up from her badge-checking, but Kain turned a delicate shade of green. ". . . y-you're joking, right?"


- x -

She couldn't help it. The moment she was close enough, she enveloped him tightly into her arms.

He still wasn't quite as tall as she was, and she was by no means a giant, having already been dwarfed herself by Mrs. Armstrong about a half-hour ago. She'd only hugged him once as a child, and at that time his head had rested just above her left breast.

But she wasn't hugging a child, anymore. She needed to remember that.

Now his head was beside hers, his chin on her shoulder. Somewhat surprisingly, he accepted the inappropriate greeting, even going so far as to haltingly return it. She held him only a few seconds before releasing him and drawing back, smoothing the creases she'd put into his too-familiar black jacket as she did so.

"Edward," she greeted, delighted to see that a surprised and possibly pleased smile was threatening to overwhelm the scowl he'd been wearing as he'd come through the door. He had decided to go the tradition route, she noticed; he was his own spitting image, just a bit older and a bit taller. The same blonde bangs softened his face, and while it was less round it had lost none of its seriousness. His golden eyes were clear and bright.

A little something, tightly wound and in the vicinity of her belly button, slowly relaxed.

Maria had been right.

Ed was okay.

Right behind him came his younger brother, who had abandoned his serious look for a grin the moment she'd dared to touch Edward. She gave Alphonse the same treatment. Here there was no hesitance; he returned the embrace with feeling. Of course, he was slightly taller than Mustang, so now it was her chin resting on his shoulder, but it was a very comfortable one, and it smelled nice.

"Colonel Hawkeye." He released her with a squeeze and stepped back to survey the office. "I see you have everything under control here."

"Looks can be deceiving," she noted, moving past him to hug Winry. She was a little surprised to see the young woman with them, but pleased; if the Elrics really were going to remain on this world, let alone in Amestris, her presence would be just what they needed to ground them back to life here.

"I didn't realize you were coming, too! I doubt there's room in the hotels, but I'm certain Black Hayate wouldn't mind sharing the guest room with one of his favorite humans."

The two women turned to look back at the Elric brothers, who were taking in the old offices they hadn't seen since they'd last been stationed in Central, well over six years ago. The rooms hadn't changed all that much, though now they were nominally used by Colonel Mazo. She'd commandeered them as a sort of base of operations for the Prime Minister's security forces here in Central, and there were many familiar faces gathered around the tables.

"I think the Elrics are giving up one of their suites," Winry replied at her left, as they followed the brothers inside. "But thank you for the invitation. If they get too big-headed, I'll probably take you up on it."

Riza smiled, nodding to Falman as he caught her eye. "They may be a bit insufferable after the Alchemist's reception," she admitted, "but I believe the Prime Minister has something in mind that should put them back in their place by dinner."

Winry snorted. "Al, maybe, but Ed's as bad as ever."

Hawkeye watched Vato shaking the brothers' hands. "That's good to hear."

"Yes," Winry agreed.

"You may be wondering why the Master Sergeant and the First Lieutenant brought you here first," she prompted, when pleasantries had been exchanged. "The paperwork reinstating your citizenships has been processed with . . . unusual alacrity."

Al just shook his head with a smile, but Ed's scowl returned. "Hakuro's still after us?"

"Your desertion from the military six years ago still stands," she reminded him. "With the destruction of Lior, there were bigger things for this government to worry about than arresting you. Because of the extenuating circumstances, you are currently not to be placed under arrest or charged until a full inquiry can be launched. However, we do now need to finish debriefing the both of you. Failure to have those documents completed could result in unpleasantness as word of your arrival spreads through the base."

She watched both of them digest that information. The Prime Minister could get them out of serious trouble, but she still wasn't sure General Hakuro was going to let the last several weeks slide. Since the citizenship had been reissued almost four days ago, they were lucky enough no one had been sent down to Resembool to drag them back. Hakuro had been too busy to pursue his pet projects with the increase in hostilities, but this would not stop him from ordering Edward taken into 'protective custody' for the remainder of the ceremonies, should they encounter one another prior to the inauguration.

A full debrief on the events that brought the Elric brothers back to this world, however, would eliminate the excuse of 'protective custody,' and also close the book on any future military aggression from that world.

She just hated to drag them both back through those memories immediately before shoving them into a reception filled with their peers, who would be just as eager to hear the details.

"First Lieutenant Falman will take your statements," she continued. "Please answer his questions concisely. Due to the sensitivity of this information, you will be interviewed separately, but I don't anticipate the interviews to take more than twenty or so minutes." She expected a protest, but neither brother said anything. "After the debriefings are completed, you will be shown to the State Alchemists' reception, where you will be instructed further regarding your part in the inauguration ceremony."

- x -

Everyone that has already knows the joys of raising a child though they may have none of their own.. We all suffered through the day to day struggles, the excitement of first words, the dread of the first fever. We didn't have a choice. A Brigadier General by the name of Maes Hughes saw to it."

More shouts, again from the military benches.

"I served with him for years, and I don't believe a single day went by that I managed to avoid seeing a picture, or hanging up a phone call before he could tell me about her latest discovery. We could be out on the middle of a battlefield, and he would be

- x -

"For those who have not served, you may not know of Elysia, or her lovely mother Gracia. But anyone that has served in the Amestris military in the last decade, no matter their position or station, could pick them out of the most crowded street."

Hawkeye dimly heard a few shouts, but couldn't make out the words.

"My critics have pointed out that I have not taken a wife, and I do not have a family of my own," he continued. "They use that as evidence that I am too single-mindedly interested in military affairs, and will have no attention for domestic issues. They have obviously never served in our country's military. Not a one of us missed watching Brigadier General Maes Hughes' daughter grow up. And not for lack of trying," he added dryly.

"Her father was possibly the most annoying man I've ever had the pleasure to be enlisted with. He was also the man that taught all of us two very important things. The first was that the day to day struggles of having a family, and raising a child, were of the utmost priority. They take precedence over meetings, over paperwork, over battlefields.

"The second was to always keep multiple copies of pictures of your children in your wallet, because new soldiers enlist every day."

This time civilians could join in on the joke, and to her relief, most did.

"Maes Hughes died seven years ago, protecting this country," he continued, his voice strong and steady. "He was an exceptional soldier, husband, and father. And as you saw earlier, he is not forgotten. His family is remembered by every man and woman you see today wearing a uniform."

- x -

"I'm sorry to trouble you again, but there's something I'm not quite clear on."

Al glanced over his shoulder at the speaker, recognizing him from the reception. They were no longer sitting in front of their name placards, but Al couldn't recall if the young man had been one of the alchemists seated, or in the ring of people that had surrounded their table. He had short-cropped, curly red hair and sharp green eyes, and his nose was rather large and bulbous.

"Ah . . . Franklin, wasn't it?"

The young man smiled, nodding. "Very good. We actually met when we were boys, but I doubt you remember. In Lior, about four and a half years ago."

Al thought back, then shook his head politely. "I'm afraid I don't. Actually . . . were you one of the children Rose was looking after?" It seemed to him there had been a redhead running around the plaza giving Rose quite a headache, but if he had been one of her charges, it hadn't been for long . . .

The redhead grinned, and Al noted that his brother had finally glanced over at Franklin, eyeing him up and down before feigning disinterest in the conversation. They were still walking, following the line of State Alchemists towards a smaller audience chamber, where they were going to be addressed by the Prime Minister.

Ed was obviously looking forward to it. An opportunity to take some of the wind out of Mustang's sails following a surprisingly successful speech. He didn't know the relatively quiet man had been capable of something that heartfelt. And improvised, as well.

Maes would be very proud of him.

"I used to play with them," the alchemist laughed, refocusing Al's attention. "My parents owned a donut shop just north of the main square."

He nodded. That explained only the passing memory. "Honey glazed, if I recall."

The redhead nodded again. "Back at the reception, didn't you say that the Crimson Alchemist destroyed Scar's left arm?"

Al nodded slowly. "Scar deconstructed it off his own body to prevent it from exploding." And thus performed human transmutation, the most taboo of all Grand Arcanum for the Ishbals.

"And he transmuted the materials of his other arm into your armor body to reverse the effects of Kimblee's explosive transmutation."

He noticed his brother's step falter ever so slightly, and he held back his smirk with effort. They'd hurriedly agreed on what to keep to themselves, but hadn't had time to get specific about the details before they'd been ushered into the reception, where they'd instantly been surrounded. Ed had slunk off before he'd gotten very far into the story, and so he'd had to improvise.

As far as he was concerned, it was up to Ed to figure out where he'd 'found' a Philosopher's Stone. They'd agreed that they would admit it had restored Al's body, but also agreed to fib a bit on the details.

"Once he'd decomposed his own arm, he'd realized how Kimblee was beginning the reactions," Al said quietly. "And thus he learned how to stop it." It wasn't as farfetched as it sounded, actually; if Scar had been more knowledgeable about alchemy, he might have been able to simply rearrange the armor without transmuting the incomplete Philosopher's Stone into it in the first place.

Of course, that might have resulted in the erasing of the blood seal, but technically it should have disappeared when that part of his armor had turned to incendiary material. He'd probably unconsciously spent some of the incomplete Stone just to keep his soul tied to his body during its change.

Franklin nodded. "And all this happened prior to the army advancing into the city."

Al pursed his lips, following the line of alchemists around a corner towards the double-doors of a large auditorium. It had to have. He didn't really recall seeing many soldiers before –

Before the transmutation circle was activated.

When Scar died.

"But then . . ." The alchemist frowned. "If he didn't have arms, how did he throw Kimblee's body off the wall?"

"You know, I've wondered that." Al glanced up to see his brother studying him, his expression slightly confused. "It was Scar, not Lust, that threw Kimblee's body in view of the army."

"He kicked it," Al replied. "Down the street. I don't actually know how he got it up the stairs. Lust must have helped him."

"Because she wanted him to transmute the Stone," the redhead concluded. "Which means it was transmuted. That's where you found the Stone, isn't it. You took it from the Homunculus."

Ed didn't reply, just shrugged his shoulders and kept walking.

Franklin turned back to him as they passed through the doors. "I don't get it. If you're both admitting to human transmutation, and say that a Philosopher's Stone is created by killing thousands of people, why not just admit that you took the Stone created during the destruction of Lior?"

Al shrugged as well, scanning the room. It was an old auditorium, empty of chairs or tables. Suits of armor – not Thule, he noted wryly - lined the marble walls, and the rectangular shape reminded him more of a ballroom than an audience hall. It was a wide open space, and could easily accommodate ten times the number of people.

Rather sloppy planning, considering an enemy could be hiding in one of those suits of armor. Then again, anyone stupid enough to try to assassinate the Prime Minister in a room of fifty battle-trained alchemists was too stupid to actually succeed.

"You'll have to ask Edward," he finally replied to the other alchemist's question. Edward had taken up a position fairly close to one of the suits of armor, hands in his pockets and bangs in his face. Clearly he was tired of talking, but Alex Louis Armstrong was never put off by something as subtle as body language. He was currently trying to engage nii-san in booming conversation, and Al smiled at the scene.

"If you'll excuse me."

Franklin acknowledged the request with a wave, and Al approached his brother and Armstrong. Alex was extolling the greatness that was Roy's acceptance speech, and despite his ducked head, Ed looked very pleased.

Proud of Mustang, was he? Or did it have something to do with the odd little smile that had been cropping up periodically since he'd returned from wherever it was he went?

Al had his suspicions, but he wasn't about to ask. He was pretty sure Ed had gone to talk to Winry. It was the only reason he'd have left the reception before they'd fully agreed on the story they were going to give their fellow alchemists.

It was the first time he'd seen nii-san smile like that since they'd left Germany.

And whatever they'd said to each other, apparently it had ended rather positively. That was all he really needed to know.

Al grinned to himself and stepped close enough to be welcomed into the conversation. He need not have actually gotten within fifty yards of the large and muscular Brigadier General to hear him, and he tried not to listen closely as the man's shining face turned to him.


Alphonse allowed himself to be embraced tightly enough to hurt, and he patted the suddenly weeping Armstrong strongly on the back, just to make sure he felt it. "You too, Alex. I see you're doing as well as ever."

"It is true!" Armstrong agreed, wiping his mustache as it dripped with tears.

- x -

He didn't get time to get much more out before the chatter in the auditorium died down, and Al glanced over his shoulder to see Colonel Hawkeye step into the doorframe. She glanced around the room, spending more time looking over the armor than the alchemists, and just behind her came the familiar figure of Prime Minister Roy Mustang.

The doors were closed firmly behind him, and he wasted no time in unbuttoning the collar of his dark, stiff jacket.

A few of the alchemists guffawed, and he gave them a dark look. "I'd have complained, but I'm terrified of my seamstress."

That earned a round of laughs, and Al was startled at the camaraderie with which he was treating them. He was also a State Alchemist, but now he was the equivalent of the Fuhrer. Al had expected him to take a slightly less casual role with them.

Once he was a little more comfortable, and a little less imposing-looking, Mustang glanced around the room. "Thank you all for coming on such short notice," he started. "The Parliament has granted my request of full control of the State Alchemists. As of now, you all answer directly to me."

So much for being casual.

He clasped his hands behind his back, surveying the room. His eye stopped when he hit Edward, who Al imagined was glaring in return, and then flicked to him.

"Before we move onto policy and your new assignments, there's another order of business to be addressed," he said coolly. Al gave him his best blank look, and tried to remain relaxed.

"The first person in history to receive a posthumous National Alchemist certification is standing in this room," Roy noted dryly, his expression never changing. "He's also the first person to survive it."

Most of the men and women in the room chuckled, but a hitched breath told Al the Strong Arm Alchemist was still weeping. His brother was watching him curiously, but Al ignored him, turning back towards Mustang.

Nii-san probably had his suspicions by now, but Al really didn't expect him to get involved.

"I believe everyone in the room is familiar with the name Alphonse Elric. Does anyone oppose his keeping the certification?" Mustang glanced out over the assembled alchemists. "He passed the written exam at the age of eleven, but chose not to take the practical due to the rather unfortunate evidence that he had attempted human transmutation."

"Speaking of which," a grizzled old man called out, "do you plan to press charges, given the rather unfortunate evidence that he succeeded the second time around?"

A murmuring sprang up, and Al resisted the urge to look away. That was another of the fake automail's perks; Edward wouldn't be accused of the same crime. He really doubted even Hakuro would go after them for their attempt to transmute their mother, but there was no doubt Edward had pursued his certification with the sole purpose of transmuting a Philosopher's Stone to try the criminal act again.

"The reason human transmutation is banned," Roy stated in a deceptively quiet voice, "is because of the almost universally unpleasant results. I doubt anyone in this room knows them more intimately than the Elrics. I'd say Alphonse has suffered an equivalent amount to his transgression."

The room was silent for a moment.

"You're the boss," the old alchemist replied.

"Anyone else?"

The room fell back into silence. Alphonse let it stretch on, daring the scan the faces of the alchemists around him.

None were giving their dissent.

"I do." Al took a step forward, separating himself slightly from the crowd. He kept his hands at his sides, forcibly reminding his fingers to relax, and ignored the sharp look he was getting from Colonel Hawkeye.

Roy merely cocked an eyebrow. "On what grounds?"

"Two reasons, actually." He half-smiled. "The first is my second name. Winry doesn't like it. Was it Parliament's first time naming an alchemist?"

To his surprise, Roy actually laughed. "It wasn't, but I see your point. What is your second objection?"

He'd rehearsed this a thousand times in his head, but now that he was there, under the surprised scrutiny of so many accomplished alchemists, he found himself hesitating.

He'd made nii-san leave it behind. He'd made him face the consequences.

It was time to face his own.

It was time to move forward.

"I can't figure out why you, of all people, would give me such an honor for killing thousands." He narrowed his focus to just Roy, studying his face and his visible eye for any hint of reaction. "I transmuted the gate that allowed the Thule Invasion to take place. Granted, they might have managed it without me, but I certainly facilitated their efforts. I fail to see why I should receive a reward for such a thing."

Mustang's face was impassive, though the response of the room was significantly more animated. He lifted a hand from behind his back to gesture for silence, and Al was shocked to see that he'd donned an ignition glove at some point.

"Would you prefer to be treated as a war criminal?" Mustang asked him. "I believe you were thirteen at the time, so you likely wouldn't be facing much besides a few years' imprisonment."

"You knew I wasn't dead," Al replied, not allowing the change in subject. "You know that given the chance today, I would do the same."

Roy stared at him, and Al realized his expression wasn't blank after all. It was –


"You've not been back long," he started slowly. "But I would have expected you to have been caught up on your history by now."

Al just held his gaze steadily.

"Did you transmute a gate in Lior, prior to the main invasion of Central?"

Some of the alchemists were still whispering to one another, and he did his best to ignore them. "No."

"Was anyone killed by the advance force that attacked Lior that day?"

"No." Of course, that advance force was already dead, but they'd been animated and had weapons, so it was safe to assume they would have –

"Brigadier General, I believe you were present at the event in question?"

"Yes, sir!" Al didn't have to look to know that Armstrong had ditched the weeping, and his face would be at attention and extremely serious.

Then again, it was obvious where Mustang was going with his line of questioning.

"What happened to the advance force in Lior?"

"Alphonse Elric transmuted a tornado, gathering the soldiers into the air before they could leave the plaza."

Mustang cocked his head to the side consideringly. "A tornado. At age thirteen."

"Yes, sir!"

"Where any of the citizens in the plaza injured?"

"The tornado was tightly controlled, and only affected the enemy soldiers. I hypothesize the attempt was meant to steal air from their lungs and render them unconscious, but I believe they were dead before they became visible to us."

"I see," Mustang said quietly. "Thank you, Brigadier General." He turned back to Al, and his eye was flat. "You've been back for three weeks, Alphonse, yet everyone in this room knows your name. You had made a name for yourself well before you disappeared that day. No one died in Lior. Do you understand?"

So Mustang had given him the honor for what he'd done in Lior, but made it a part of Central's ceremony simply because he knew Alphonse Elric, or at the very least Elric, was a name the average person might recognize.

Then it really wasn't about him at all. It had been done for the people.

Just like Mustang's reinstatement had been done for the people.

And Roy had accepted being brought back into the military at high rank, despite how he felt he had failed.

Al dropped his eyes, then shook his head. "I understand, but I don't agree."

Mustang took a moment to consider his reply. "Duly noted. Your request for resignation is denied."

Al brought his eyes back up, not so much surprised as angry. It was fueled by Mustang's expression, which was now vaguely amused.

That smug bastard.

"However, I suppose a posthumous award of this nature could be rescinded seeing as the alchemist in question is still quite remarkably alive. You were very badly injured, Alphonse. Have you attempted transmutation since you returned?"

He locked eyes with Roy, but the man never so much as twitched.

Was he testing him? Just to see if he'd admit to transmuting the uranium bomb to avoid giving the answer Mustang wanted to hear?

Not that he was even tempted. "No."

"Then I suppose a practical is in order. I believe there are enough National Alchemists present to meet the current quota."

Al took a deep breath. "I have no desire to be a State Alchemist."

"I don't recall asking for your opinion," Mustang replied coldly. "A quarter of this city is still in ruin from that day. If you're so eager to take on guilt for that attack, perhaps you should consider indebting yourself to this country in a way that would be of most use."

He almost flinched, but he wasn't sure anyone would see it but Ed. "I will do my utmost to repair the damage caused and seek the forgiveness of the victims' families, if there is any to be had." He fought to keep his voice steady. "But I will do so without a title I don't deserve." He'd fight to protect Amestris if it came to that, surely Mustang knew it wasn't necessary to put a leash around his neck.

But he couldn't forget the little girl that had died not ten feet from him, when the airship dropped its load of explosive. The airship that could not have traveled intact through the indistinct gate that had both transported and killed those soldiers in Lior.

He knew it wasn't completely his fault. He'd been a child, after all, and he hadn't known what was going to happen. But he had known there were enemy soldiers where his brother was. He had known they meant to threaten his world.

He simply hadn't considered that they could threaten his world. And that if they did, that he wouldn't be able to stop them.

Without that gate, the attack on Central couldn't have happened on the scale it had. Not if Wrath and Gluttony hadn't been there, and Wrath would never have been there if he hadn't gone to try to open a door to that world in the first place.

The last thing he needed to do was sully the name of State Alchemists, when it was revealed what part he had actually played in that invasion. It wouldn't reflect as poorly on the government, or the State Alchemists, if he just refused the award. It would appear that they hadn't know what part he had played.

It was the only out he could think to give Mustang.

"I refuse to take the practical."

For a second, the room was quite silent. That was probably a first, too – no one who had been asked to take the practical exam had ever declined. Many had taken it and still not been chosen for the certification.

Mustang watched him for several seconds, and then he casually raised his right hand. His thumb was pressed lightly against his middle finger, and the threat was obvious. "Reconsider."

"You can't threaten me into this," Al told him quietly.

"Watch me," he replied. "This county is dangerously close to collapse. Our neighbors would love to pounce, faith in the government is low, and

- x -

Very early Plot Thoughts:

- x -

Al transmuted part of his soul into several suits of armor at the base of the building they used to spear the airship in the movie. Those suits of armor eventually were shot by troops, and one was presented to Mustang in recognition of his work for saving the city (it was never revealed publicly that Edward Elric returned, nor that Alphonse Elric went across the gate - he was listed as missing presumed dead.)

Al is drawn to that suit of armor, making Ed and the bomb appear in Mustang's offices' front hall, where they are eventually found by Sheska and Havoc. Ed eventually regains consciousness with no memories of his time with Al on Earth, but his body is as it was when he left Earth, and the nerve endings in his stripped automail are completely destroyed. Winry realizes what must have happened to Ed.

Alphonse returns to the suit of armor and they don't find him until several hours later, when the suit of armor is found to be bleeding. He is near death and alchemists, using the Red Stone left over from the Fuhrer's plots, are able to save his life.

Ed wakes up very briefly after arriving in the office hallway, and sees the uranium bomb. His voice is very hoarse, as if he has been screaming. He tells them all what it is and asks where he is. When he learns where he is, he asks where Al is. When he hears that only he and the bomb arrived, he hyperventilates and passes out. Due to the damage to his automail limbs and his generally poor condition, he remains unconscious for eight days.

When Alphonse comes to, he learns that Mustang has risen through the ranks of the military once more, and the Parliament is seriously considering him as their next Prime Minister. Due to the loud entrance of the Elric brothers, he was unable to keep the uranium bomb a secret from the Parliament, and they are now deliberating what to do with it. Al can't speak, so he writes on notepaper what it is and what he needs to do with it. Mustang can turn it over to Al but lose his re-elevated position. Mustang eventually hatches a plot that will allow Al to decompose the bomb by making it look as though the bomb detonated, but had none of the explosive potential they thought it had. This invalidates further research on uranium bombs in Amestris.

Winry and Al tell Ed what must have happened to him after he becomes irrationally afraid of the new automail Winry has made for him. Ed notes that he still cannot remember, but they figure if he knows what it was he had forgotten, if his memories ever return, he will not be completely unprepared.

Mustang theorizes that Ed lost the traumatic memories of torture because as Al pulled them through the gate, he alone is the only alchemist that can pass through the Gate without harm, his soul having been permanently Gate-proofed by sacrificing his entire body. He wanted to make Ed the way he was before more than anything, but because he was so close to death, he didn't have the resolve to bring back Ed's limbs. All he could do was make Ed the same way he was when he went through the gate and arrived to see the gypsy and Alfons dead in Germany.

- x -

Timeline of the anime/movie:

- x -

1923 on Earth - two years after the boys left Amestris at the end of the anime, beginning of Shamballa

Ed was born on Feb 2, 1899

Al was born in 1900.

Ed was twelve when he was certified in 1910 (Al was ten, according to Wikipedia)

Ed is eighteen in the Earth year 1923 (1917 in Amestris)

Al is seventeen in the Earth year 1923 (1917 in Amestris)

Stuttgart, 1927 - Ed is 23, Al is 22

Free State of Wurttemberg, 1924 - Ed is 19, Al is 18

Amestris, 1921 - Ed is 23, Al is 22

Sergeant Sheska

Master Sergeant Denny Brosh

Colonel Riza Hawkeye

Major General Roy Mustang

First Lieutenant Maria Ross

Lieutenant colonel Jean Havoc

Frettley - lab tech

Major Heymans Breda

Patterson - Ed and Al's doctor; first year, friend of Breda's

Brigadier General Louis Armstrong

General Walthers

Dr. Klein

First Lieutenant Falman

- x -

Timeline of Gate travel of the two brothers:

- x -


First time: Went to the gate. Traded leg (supposedly) for soul of his mother. Then traded arm for the soul of his brother.

Second time: sent through gate by Dante. Dante paid the price of transfer?

Third time: used alchemy and the Earth-version's death to get to the gate, forced way out when Dante summoned the gate and it took Wrath's/Ed's arm and leg back. Ed fought his way out of the gate. Arm/leg paid for Ed's escape? Or arm/leg taken and nothing gained? Free escape?

Fourth time: Died. Stayed at the Gate until resurrected by Al.

Fifth time: Went through the Gate. Resurrected Al as the ten year old. Paid for the resurrection by giving Al's memories of the last four years? Paid for the transfer by losing the arm and leg? Had automail joints and same body - where did the automail come from? From his father?

Sixth time: Went through the Gate in a rocket built by Alfonse. Alfonse then died. Paid for transfer with Alfonse's death? Hohenheim and Envy paid for transfer? No apparent payment.

Seventh time: Went through the Gate in the Thule rocket. Eckhart paid with body changes? No apparent payment.

Eight time: Ed paid for transfer by allowing the Gate to keep his arm and leg. How he passed through the gate without paying since his arm and leg were taken from Envy.


First time: Went to the gate, lost body and gained what? Ed paid price to affix Al's soul with his right arm.

Second time: Died when his suit of armor was used to resurrect Ed. Stayed in the gate in his ten year old body until resurrected by Ed. Paid with four years of his memories.

Third time: Sent piece of soul transmuted to armor. Paid by Hohenheim/Envy? Paid by Eckhart? No apparent payment.

Fourth time: Piece of transmuted soul crossed Gate back to Al. Paid by Hohenheim/Envy? No apparent payment.

Fifth time: Went through the gate in the Thule rocket. Eckhart paid with body changes? No apparent payment.

Sixth time: Went through the Gate with Ed. Death of humans on Earth paid for transfer/Al was still owed? No apparent payment.

- x -

Later Plot Thoughts:

- x -

Left to do:

- Explain six year discrepancy between Earth and Amestris

- Get Ed into Al's room to keep his soul attached to his body.

- Get the Tringums to reconstruct Al's body (not human transmutation if the body is alive and still has a soul, as proven by Shou Tucker until he tried to use Al's armor)

- Two limbs taken from Wrath, nothing was gained. Wrath had taken them originally from Ed.

- When Sloth died, Ed should have gotten leg back. When Al was no longer bound to the armor, Ed should have gotten arm back? All he learned was necessary to barter with the Gate, so no price attached to the knowledge of soul binding

- Ed resurrected Al - brought body back from the Gate, soul adjusted to new body by forcing suppression of memories? Ed paid for this by sacrificing his arm/leg? Or by agreeing to be separated from Al by going to Earth? Possible plot-hole.

- Al tried to make Ed the way he was before, including removing the memories that would have rendered him useless. He was dying as he bartered, and Ed instinctively relinquished his limbs to ensure Al could cross the Gate. This was unnecessary. The Gate will take what it can get, but if fair trade is enforced by the will of the soul bartering, it will play fairly. Call it mischievous.

- Al gained the ability to traverse the Gate at will by giving up his entire body to the Gate, as Ed paid the cost of getting their mother's soul back, and simply making an empty body does not require the Gate. Because he gave up his body for four years, he has a certain number of trips through the Gate without paying a toll. He has used nearly all of them.

- The Gate tries to call Al's soul as his body is being healed, and both boys end up at the Gate. Ed forces it to give him his arm and leg back - thinks he sees Wrath inside, chucking them out?

- Ed has been paying the toll of traversing the Gate by not requiring his limbs be returned to him. Now that they are, he can no longer traverse the Gate without paying a toll. He may or may not be able to encounter the Gate without paying, depending on the circumstance, but he can no longer cross without paying.

- Mustang smuggles the brothers into the lab where the bomb is being kept. Transmute the uranium until it is relatively safe and the fission reaction will not happen. Weaken the shell's structure so the bomb will go off sooner than later.

- Bomb detonates in the wee hours of the morning. One technician sees it go off. Explosive output extremely weak. Uranium bomb testing is halted for the foreseeable future in Amestris due to analysis of bomb.

- Assumed Mustang will become Prime Minister. Assumed he will now pursue Riza. Both boys have original bodies back. No reason to go back to Earth. Ed and Al begin to teach alchemists physics and physicists alchemy. Story ends.

- x -

Input from Reviewers

- x -

Suggested plotholes:

How did the city below Central appear so suddenly?

Scar and his arms in Lior - how did he throw Kimblee off the roof with no arms?

How did Ed's automail get discovered?

- x -

Left to cover:

Ed and Al meet Roy's subs - Denny's POV

Ed's automail removal revealed? Where?

Riza and Roy getting ready for the inauguration - Roy's POV

Roy is inaugurated - Roy's POV

Ed and Al talking to the National Alchemists prior to meeting Roy - mention Lior - Al's POV

Alchemists meet Roy and Al is given his practical and renamed - Al's POV

Roy announces alchemists will take physics, physicists will take alchemy

- x -

Created creepiness through new Gate Theory:

Izumi's uterus, ovaries et al are running around in the Gate

Scar's brother's genitalia is running around in the Gate

Izumi parts Scar's brothers parts = more Gatebabies?

- x -

Clues to Al's desire to turn himself in:

Is sharp with Ed about Mustang's role in the Thule Invasion

Says that his brother is going to the First Library - not himself

Says they won't need both rooms

Inquires about posthumous award - doesn't necessarily indicate he is pleased

Says that Mustang has a plan for Ed - does not include himself

Says he made his own decisions, and he deals with the consequences

Avoided mentioning it to Ed during their 'conversation'

Afraid of the 'orders' Maria delivered to Ed on the train

Asked Mustang to determine if the man blamed him