Returning Echoes

Disclaimer: I do not own, nor ever will own, FullMetal Alchemist or the characters therein.

Chapter 1: A Small Matter of Equivalence

"For the last damned time, I do not want to be called Mary!!"

Edward Elric screamed at his brother, his voice cracking it was raised so high.

"But you ..."

"No, Al. My name is Ed and that's what it will stay." Ed glared at his younger brother, stubborn eyes of gold meeting equally stubborn ones of grey.

Al threw his hands up in the air, reminiscent of an old mannerism of Ed's. "Fine," he conceded grudgingly, then carried on, "but it's not..."

"I know it's not, Al. But I don't care. Mamma gave me this name and it's who I always will be, no matter what."

Al sighed, he had no response to that and Ed knew it. There were bigger problems to be faced but having a shouting match over Al's facetious remark had released some of the tension in both of them. After all, it's not every day that your younger brother brings you back from the Gate. Nor was it just any other day when you discover that your older brother is now your older sister because you didn't get the equivalency rates quite right.

Now Al knew exactly how guilty his brother had felt all those years ago.

Al sighed as he looked up at the moon. He stretched his thin frame much like a cat til his muscles shook slightly then relaxed back into himself and settled into the comfortable niche he had made amongst the rubble.

His brother was asleep. Ed had done little but sleep and rant since his return six hours ago. Not that Al blamed him, if anything he thought Ed had been remarkably self-controlled considering. Al knew he would have had full-blown hysterics if the same thing had happened to him. Not for the first time today, Al felt the wave of guilt sweep through him. He had prided himself on his theories and his knowledge and his determination to have everything perfect but he had failed at the last moment. Oh sure, Ed was back, almost whole, almost normal. It was just a small hitch, how could he have known that it would have had such an effect.

"I have a sister." Al groaned. Ed was never going to forgive him for this. Then because Al was a very intelligent young man he suddenly realised that there were several other people who would also probably never forgive him either when they found out.

He closed his eyes briefly and thought back over the last few days. For four years he had been searching for his brother, seeking a way to bring him back from the other side of the Gate. Al had never believed that Ed was dead, he had never given up hope. His brother always came back, his brother always kept his promises.

It had taken him six months to calculate and configure the array. Six months of reading and researching obscure texts and mouldy old manuscripts in every dingy library and bookshop from Dublith to Xing and all points between. He had travelled with nothing but the clothes on his back and a suitcase filled with notes. He had developed theory after theory. None of them had given him the answer. It had taken him three months to realise that by combining parts of several arrays he could at last get an idea of what he needed. It had renewed him and he had plunged even further into study. And then he did it. He designed the array that would work, that had to work. And it wouldn't just bring Ed back. It would bring him back whole and complete in all ways. Al had not spent four unsleeping years as a suit of armour for nothing. He had calculated the costs and balances for getting Ed's limbs back on many a long night and now he had the array that would do it.

It had taken him two days to draw it. He had to find a place to draw it. Somewhere large and abandoned. He spent a week looking for a suitable place. He considered the underground city but that was too close to the military. He considered the island but he didn't want to be that far from help if something did go wrong. Not that it would of course. In the end, he came back to here. The place it had all begun so many years ago. Their burnt out ruin of a house. He had made an underground chamber and drawn out the circles in chalk. He had checked and double checked every line, every curve, every single symbol. It had looked perfect. He had spent a whole day verifying it and then going over every line again to make them thicker, more substantial.

It had taken him two minutes to screw it up. The moment he placed his fingertips to the array the bright lights of a successful reaction had sparked and he had smiled, his mind gloating at the array's perfection. He had felt himself reaching out, his soul searching for the essence that was Ed. Slow minutes had ticked past as he searched and then it had all fallen apart. The Gate had noticed him and demanded its payment. He had calculated the equivalencies to the last decimal point or so he thought. The Gate bluntly told him he was wrong and offered him the Truth, but Alphonse did not want it. All he wanted was his brother. Two minutes later his brother appeared in the middle of the array and the Gate had taken the balance owing from Edward.

Al sighed again. He was so dead when Ed woke up.

Ed opened his eyes and looked around the dimly lit cavern. He sighed and heard it echo. He still felt very tired. Four hours sleep was not enough time to recover from passing through the Gate again. He knew he'd probably need another week to fully recover from it. He stretched his legs out one at a time and relished again the feeling of two sets of muscles tensing and tingling as he moved them. Damn, but it felt good to have normal legs again. It almost made up for the other change in his anatomy. Almost but not quite. After all not only had he changed sex, but his arm was still missing.

Edward groaned softly. He was now female. He had no idea of what being a female entailed. He knew what it meant anatomically but that was going to be scant help. He had lived with a female but she had read his mind, not he hers. What was he supposed to do now? How was he even going to manage being like this until they could reverse it and could it even be reversed. Ed shuddered at that thought. It had better be.

He puffed out his next breath and sat up. Fortunately the clothes he had on were comfortable and concealed his new physique. But it was still disconcerting to Ed to feel his shirt and trousers fitting different. The materials rubbed and stretched in new ways and it was un-nerving. It was like wearing the wrong size only worse, he thought.

He raised his hand, he had taken the glove off earlier and he looked again at the slender and definitely more feminine hand. He would have to get his automail back and modified to suit his new appearance. He grunted at the thought of that and then paled totally at the thought of how Winry would react to his changed … circumstances. And then there was Mustang and all the others. Ed broke out in a cold sweat. He was so dead, and so was Al he thought.

Ed dropped his head into his hand. Al. At least there was a bright side to all this. He was back home and Al, his little brother, was alive and well. And he had yet to be really grateful and happy at being home. He had gone straight into a two hour rant to hide the shock of suddenly being back in Amestris. And he had used it to cover the bone deep tiredness he still felt. Screaming at your brother because he had changed your sex on you was the probably the best excuse he had ever had for ranting. But most of all he had wanted to hide the anger he had felt towards Al for putting himself in so much danger by attempting it in the first place. What ifs tumbled around his brain. He could have lost Al and he would never have known. For four years, the thought of Al being alive and safe at home had kept him sane in the world beyond the Gate.

Ed stood up and began to walk across the array drawn on the floor. He looked at it and marvelled at its complexity and beauty. His little brother really was quite the genius. It was shame about his small error. Ed sighed. Equivalent exchange just did not like him.

Ed picked his way up a small sloping passage and was rewarded with the sight of a bright full moon and starry sky. He frowned at the familiarity of the stars then his mouth opened as he realised just exactly where he was. The first home he could ever remember. The only place that had truly been home.

"Nice spot to pick, Al," he mumbled with easy sarcasm.

"I thought so" Al replied from his position. Ed spun around and picked out the shape of his brother amongst the stones. A faint stench of smoke still lingered as he moved across to sit beside him.

Al was taller, Ed thought with a passing frown. And his face still has that innocence to it, despite being what… eighteen now. His hair's quite short, I wonder why he cut it. He always said he'd grow it long one day. He was dressed in black shirt and trousers and seemed thinner than he should be despite the thickness of the coat hanging around his shoulders. But Ed was caught up in his eyes. Grey eyes, he knew, with so much intelligence and honesty in them. Eyes that had seen too much and yet had never let it shadow him. Eyes that held everything Ed had worked for, everything he had struggled and sacrificed for. Life. His brother. Perfect and alive.

"I never thought I would see you again, Al." Ed wrapped his only arm around Al and leant against him. His brother was warm solid flesh and Ed had never been happier. He felt his eyes prickle and blinked furiously. There was no way he was going to cry like a girl … even if he was one.