Grissom sat in the SUV, tapping his fingers against the steering wheel, as unseasonably heavy rain sluiced down the windows. It was nearly impossible to see, even with the wipers going at full speed, but he wasn't worried. It would be worse when he was actually moving, but for now he could wait out the worst of it parked beside the curb.
The radio was playing a quiet mix of classic blues that he could just hear over the raindrops pounding down on the vehicle. He heard the radio host's voice every few minutes, but couldn't pick out any of the words. It was an odd sort of quietness that filled the space for several minutes.
The passenger door opened without any warning, and rain wormed its way onto the seats and even onto Grissom's side of the vehicle until Sara finally climbed in and slammed the door shut.
"Beautiful weather we're having, isn't it?" she asked with a little smile, pulling her hood back and shaking out her damp hair.
Grissom snorted. "About as nice as a hurricane."
"Well, if we lived anywhere but the west coast I'd be telling you that it probably was."
He chuckled. "We should probably wait out the worst of it. The weather warning says it should be slacking off soon enough."
They lapsed into silence for a moment, both just looking out the water-streaked windows, indistinct music washing from the speakers.
Finally, Grissom looked over as Sara undid her jacket—which was clearly soaked almost through—and shucked it into the back seat. "How did it go today?"
She shrugged, brushing a strand of hair behind her ear. "Oh, you know. Same as always. Most psychiatrists are about the same."
He gave her a serious look. "But it's helping?"
She met his eyes and then looked down slightly, fiddling with her hands, tangling her fingers together over and over again. "...Yeah. Yeah, I think it is." She suddenly gave a bitter little laugh. "Never really thought you'd be picking me up from these things anytime soon."
"Nick isn't the only one who ever needs help with that kind of thing."
She snorted. "Clearly not."
Grissom reached over and grabbed her hands, both to stop her fidgeting and make her look at him. "Sara, you were captive for five weeks—taken from your own home, the place you felt safest. I don't know the details, and you know I'm not going to ask for them unless you want to share. But seeing a psychiatrist is nothing to be ashamed of."
It was an old argument, and one that he was never going to back down from having until it had sunk into her mind completely. It had been nearly two months already, and he wasn't about to stop. If Sara still needed him to say it, then he was going to continue saying it.
"I'm not ashamed of it," Sara insisted, even though her hands gripped his tightly. "I just... never expected it."
"I don't think any of us expected what was going to happen," Grissom said lightly. The attempted levity fell flat as Sara turned to look out the window again.
It had taken longer than either of them would have liked to get out of the church and call 911 after everything had ended. After a thorough search (this one much more so than the last), there had been no sign of either the Elric brothers or the homunculus that had started everything. It was as if they'd disappeared into thin air.
The aftermath had been confusing and difficult to deal with. Everyone had wanted to know what was happening. Grissom and Sara had both given their statements to the best of their ability, but they had had a silent, tacit agreement to mention nothing about shape shifters and alchemical reactions. That had left very little with which to work, but they'd managed to piece together a story that sounded plausible.
To be honest, Grissom loved the simplicity of it. As much as he hated lying to the people he worked with on a regular basis, the ease of saying that he'd found Sara and no one else had been there, that he'd rescued her before calling the police, that Sara had heard something about her captor fleeing out of the country now that his partner was dead, was satisfying. Of course, Sara's continued presence at the lab during her captivity had been harder to explain away; they had settled on a story of her being under duress, the captor living at her home until she'd finally managed to get a message to Grissom and had been whisked away to a location that the perp had thought would be secret. It turned out that the priest of the church had been told by the janitor—who had gone mysteriously missing—that there was a gas leak in the building, so the congregation had been gathering elsewhere. It had been the perfect cover story. No one looked too deeply into it at that point; Sara's emotional and physical state spoke for themselves and no one was about to argue with a story that fit so neatly into what they expected.
Of course, they'd told the other CSIs and Brass the truth; all of them were too deeply involved in the case to have it be glossed over in such a way. And Greg hadn't been able to keep himself from bragging about figuring out Ed's alchemy, so they'd already had the more sensitive details anyway.
The Elrics had disappeared from Ed's hospital room without a trace, and no one officially knew where they'd gone. The search had ended after two weeks, and neither boy had any family who would issue a missing persons report. Greg had said something about their father living in the UK, but apparently he'd dropped off the face of the earth; any attempts to contact him went unanswered.
"I always wonder if they made it," Sara said quietly as the rain seemed to lessen slightly.
Grissom squeezed her hand. They'd managed (with both Greg's expected and Doc Robinson's more unexpected help) to determine what Ed had meant by the Gate; it turned out to be the barrier between the two worlds, based on several things Ed had said and intensive research into the more obscure (and mostly only available through dusty old tomes in the public library archives) alchemical theories. When Ed had changed the transmutation he'd been told to do, Grissom had been alarmed, but after some discussion with like minds, he'd been able to set his mind at ease slightly. Ed had clearly been trying to do something that could bring him and his brother home, and the fact that he'd planned it on the fly under significant pressure spoke highly of the kid's—no, he was really a man despite his age—intelligence. Whether or not it had actually worked was something that not even Greg's newest obsession could figure out.
"I'm sure they're fine," Grissom answered finally, squeezing her hands in his. "Both of them are too smart for their own good." He paused for a moment, feeling a bittersweet smile quirk his mouth. "And Ed will probably laugh himself sick if he ever learns what kind of alchemy monster he's turned Greg into."
Sara laughed, and it was a little freer than he'd heard it in a while. He smiled at her warmly, and she met his eyes and smiled back. The malnourished hollowness of her cheeks had finally faded, and any other physical signs of her captivity were gone. She looked like the Sara he knew and loved, even though her eyes seemed a bit darker. They were getting lighter every day.
Grissom glanced out the windshield. The rain was significantly lighter than before; it was enough that they'd be able to drive relatively safely.
"Well, time to head home," he murmured, before leaning over and giving Sara a quick peck on the lips. She smiled into it before he released her hands and pulled back.
Then he put the SUV into drive and pulled out onto the street.
"I'm coming, I'm coming!"
"Well go faster!"
"I'd be going faster if you didn't make me carry every goddamn thing on the list!"
"Oh, stop being a sissy! That shiny new automail is more than strong enough to carry all that. I should know! I designed it!"
Ed sighed in aggravation as he looked up the path at Winry, who was giving him an infuriatingly cocky grin as he trudged along several metres behind her, the heavy bags of market produce and groceries swung over his shoulder. "I'm still recovering from being mortally injured!" he shouted up at her. The eye roll he got in return was exactly the opposite of the gratification he'd hoped for.
"Yeah, just like Al's still recovering from being an undernourished twig."
"Low blow," he groused. Al had been almost a stone over his minimum healthy weight for over three weeks, and he had worked hard to gain back the muscle mass he'd had before losing his body. Sparring with him (once he'd been cleared by Granny) was a surprising new pleasure, because Ed could actually beat him now.
"Stop complaining and hurry up!" Winry called again before jogging further up the path, leaving Ed to haul the bags alone.
He shifted the load (wincing when it caught on his too-short ponytail) and grumbled under his breath for a minute. "Stupid woman."
He knew he shouldn't complain; it was probably the last shopping trip he'd have to partake in before going back to Central next week to finally bring his report of events and figure out where he was going to go from there. If he wanted to be a State Alchemist still, he'd have to re-certify; apparently being declared dead by the State put a bit of a damper into most career paths. They'd been very clear that he had two months to sort out his life and recover from what was clearly a traumatic experience before he had to return.
The train ride home to Risembool had been surreal—and not only because several of the passengers stared openly at the both of them whenever they ventured out of their compartment. Ed had felt strangely out of place, like he'd been gone for far longer than he really had. Everything was familiar, but in a way that didn't quite feel real.
Maybe it was because he just couldn't believe it was real at all.
He should have anticipated the hubbub it would cause when he and Al had appeared amidst the rubble of the cathedral they'd vanished from nearly two months before. He blamed that particular lack of foresight on the abruptness of his plan—and with the acknowledgement that he really hadn't been sure it would work and so hadn't really planned for the best case scenario. The amount of questioning they'd been subjected to had been nearly unbearable, but someone higher up on the food chain clearly liked them because it had ended as abruptly as it had begun and they'd been granted leave. Though technically they had no hold over Al, especially now that there was no evidence of the illegal alchemy done with his soul, there had been the obvious assumption that wherever Ed went, Al was sure to follow.
And now he would finally be heading back.
Ed flexed his automail experimentally, hearing not a single gear whirr. Winry had outdone herself on this one, and Ed was grateful. He'd honestly been expecting to get nothing more from her for the rest of his life when he'd shown up on her doorstep with an arm that had been so clearly brutalized and then slapped back together haphazardly with alchemy. (Though the number of bruises he'd gotten in the resulting argument still hadn't faded completely.)
It had been hard to explain everything to her and Granny Pinako. Both had, in the end, convinced themselves that the brothers were never coming back, so tears had been shed all over the place. (The laughter at the state of his hair hadn't been appreciated, but at least it had made Winry demand to cut it properly in order to avoid being embarrassed by him in public.) He'd escaped as soon as possible (which was forty eight hours later, when Granny had finally stopped hitting him with her wrench and shoving stew down both of their throats as if they were starving animals) and made his way to the riverbank. It had become his place to just sit and think, even once both women learned where to find him when he'd been missing for too long.
If they noticed that he was a little quieter, a little more introspective than usual, they didn't say anything.
Ed looked back down the path at the small cluster of houses, people bustling between them and the quiet ring of their voices echoing up to his ears. It was so much quieter—so much more peaceful—than Central, and certainly than Las Vegas. He frowned at the thought of the city he'd left so abruptly. It would have been nice to explore it, all things considered. He hadn't even had a chance to say goodbye to the people who had helped him. His pride liked to think that he would have made it through just fine without them, but realistically he realized he would have been dead in the first three days. They probably didn't even know that he and Al were alive.
With a sigh, he turned back to the path leading up to Granny Pinako's house. There was nothing he could do about any of that except feel grateful that he'd gotten out of it in (relatively) one piece. And they'd gotten Al's body back amidst everything.
All in all, it hadn't been a total loss.
He breathed in the spring air deeply, hitched the bags higher on his shoulder, and began walking.
I want to thank all of you who've stuck this story through to the end. It doesn't feel real; it's been so long in coming that I can hardly believe it's over. (I may or may not have cried while writing this epilogue.) I couldn't have done it without you folks, my readers, who punched me until I kept going, even when I lost interest for awhile. I hope that you enjoyed the loooooooooooong ride this was, and that you'll come back for other fics in the future. There will, probably, be a rewrite, but that won't happen for a good long while. In the meantime, thank you (again and again and again) for being a wonderful audience.