First order of business: I don't know where the phone is in the Rockbell house. I don't know if it was ever seen in the Rockbell house in the manga. At any rate, I'm putting it on the wall in the kitchen, since it's long been established that the kitchen is the center of activity for the house.
Second order of business: This chapter is late because it's the last chapter of ENATAgain. Yeah, I know… feels too soon. But ENATAgain has reached the 100k-words milestone (which, if you recall, was where ENAT stopped) and has gotten there just in time for the ending I've been excited for since the beginning. Thank you for reading thus far!
Third order of business: I got a very upsetting anonymous review on July 6. This person was misinformed and/or did not read attentively and got confused about the controversial Chapter 39 of ENATAgain. The truly annoying part was that whoever it was that sent the review was apparently afraid to use their real account to send it, which means that I was unable to PM that person and explain the misunderstanding. Hopefully that person is still reading and will benefit from me spelling this out: Charles kissed Winry ONCE. And she broke his nose for it. Charles does not kiss her "every time they meet" because after the first time, she would have (almost literally) castrated him for it. She didn't call the cops on him because it was only that one time and she's rational enough that she didn't want to start a big court case (thus trapping her in Lior, because she and Ed would be key witnesses) over something that seemed to be a one-time thing (which it was, since Charles isn't liable to come back after seeing how afraid Winry was of Ed's lividity). Anonymous reader, next time you decide to make such a rash comment as "Winry of ENATAgain, screw you," please make sure you know what's going on. Better yet, go ahead and be as mean as you want, just use your FFnet account so I don't have to go to these great lengths to try to contact you.
Fourth order of business: Sorry about the in-chapter footnotes in this. I know it might be a little distracting, but I find them necessary, given how big this chapter is.
It was Friday afternoon. Meta was still doing the 'sick' game, but she didn't look nearly as terrible as she'd looked earlier in the week, so they had given her a couple acetaminophen and were counting on her being well enough to function long enough for this plan to work.
The phone in Rockbell Automail had never been subjected to so much continuous usage in its life. As Luna fielded what felt like the hundredth call concerning the specifics of "The Plan" (as it had oh-so-uncleverly been dubbed by Ed) she found herself wishing she could get away with running away to a dark, secluded corner and crying. Not that she had any qualms about doing it from a social standpoint—she just knew it would be a waste of time, since the phone would likely ring in five minutes anyway, and Luna was currently on phone duty.
She turned around after saying goodbye to Mr. Ferguson and leaned against the wall beside the phone, watching Ed as he unpacked the candles Winry had ordered a few days ago. Mr. MacMillan, the owner of the candle shop who had given the order to Winry free of charge, had gone out of his way to make sure that they had enough for The Plan to work, much to the befuddlement of the teenage residents of the Rockbell house, but Mr. MacMillan had handwaved the issue and said simply that it was "for a good cause." Winry had supposed that maybe Mr. MacMillan was just one of those people, and the others had reluctantly agreed that there didn't seem to be any reason for it. (Meta could have probably figured out the reason, if she had been told about it, since 'MacMillan' happened to be the last name of the friend whose birthday party she had missed the previous week—however, since The Plan was never revealed to Meta, this incident of charity was never comprehended.)
"What?" Ed asked when he realized she was staring at him.
"Didn't look like nothing," he contradicted under his breath. "Hey, Tick," he said in a tone meant for her to hear, "why do you look so tired today, hm?"
"Ahh… I couldn't sleep last night."
"Too panicked about today. Wondering if it's gonna work, if we're doing the right thing, if this is a bad idea…"
Before Ed could respond, the phone rang again and Luna had to answer, so Ed went back to his job unpacking the candles.
The person Luna was speaking to filibustered for so long that by the time Luna got off the phone, Ed had unpacked a whole box of candles, Al had already brought them out to the front lawn, where he and Winry were setting up the luminaria (Winry's idea), and Ed was feeding Joli a snack of cheese and crackers and sending her back outside to play under Al and Winry's supervision.
"You're right," Luna sighed once she'd (finally) hung up. "I need a nap."
Ed put the cheese away and withdrew a small white box. "You really think this is a bad idea?" he asked her.
"A little," she admitted. "Or at the very least, idealistic… It was Max's idea originally. I'm concerned that this will end up being just another nail in the coffin for her. She's sick! This stress and grief is making her physically ill! Who are we to think that this is something that we can counteract with words and empty shoulder pats? It's just… I love her… I love her like the sister my parents never gave me. And if this fails, I'm afraid this situation will only get worse…"
Ed leaned against the wall on the other side of the phone, opened the box, and handed Luna a sushi before taking one for himself. "Hmm. I'm glad you two got this sushi the other day. Sushi is good."
Luna rolled her eyes. "Non sequitur much?"
"If I tell you what I really think, are you going to get mad at me? Or cry?"
"I don't cry," she informed him, laughing a bit. "And look, I'm unarmed. Unless you count salmon as a weapon. Edward, you spend too much time with Winry for your own good."
"…I was joking."
"I know. I was just thinking."
"Ah. Well, I'll leave you to it then." She fell silent and chewed her piece of sushi contemplatively.
"You know what your problem is?" Ed burst out suddenly, making a correspondingly sudden gesture of annoyance in Luna's peripheral vision.
"I can't spell 'occurrence'?" she guessed. "I've never seen a chimpanzee? I'm slightly nearsighted?"
"You have no faith!"
She rolled her eyes. "I beg to differ; I believe in loads of things. And anyway, who are you to talk, Mr. Screw God I've Got Science?"
He seemed to be stuck somewhere between pissed and what-the-hell-are-you-talking-about for a moment. "What the fuck does God have to do with it?"
She stared at him until he got it.
"OH! Wha—no! I didn't mean that kind of faith. I use 'gullibility' to describe the condition of believing in gods. (You should get in the habit, too.) No, what I meant was, you have no faith in yourself… Uh, no, wait, that's a cliché. I meant, you don't believe in… stuff… that you do… that's smart… and will work. Shit, this is NOT coming out right. Gimme a sec."
"You mean I should be more confident in this plan because I should trust in my own abilities to—"
"Shut up!" Ed barked at her, scowling. "I'll redeem my own verbal slip-ups by myself, thank you!"
"Go ahead," she said amiably.
"You're all doubt-y and will-this-work?-y and most of all, whiny," he ranted. "You should be less concerned about whether this will work and more focused on how this will work. If there's one thing that I've learned in my whole life, it's that whining gets you nowhere! And hard work pays off as long as you have faith in yourself. There is no God and there are no magical fix-it-quick remedies—those are just placebos that'll fill your mind with mush and false faith so you'll follow the pied piper just like everyone else, but guess what? The children who followed the pied piper died. So learn their lesson." He opened and closed his mouth a little like a guppy, then seemed to decide he was done with his speech and stormed out of the room, taking the sushi box with him.
"Big words don't change the fact that the dough is always better than the cookies,"  Luna contradicted under her breath.
"Meta!" Winry called. "Would you come here for a second?"
A loud grunt of recognition emitted from the direction of Meta's bedroom.
Four teenagers and one preadolescent held their breaths as they listened to Meta noisily heading out of her room and into the hall. Winry turned to Ed, Luna, and Al and shooed them away, hissing, "Go! And for God's sake, act natural!" She aimed the latter comment at the visibly uneasy Max, who was shifting his weight from foot to foot and looking at everything on or around the porch except Winry.
"Why are you here?" Meta shouted, ignoring Winry entirely as soon as she caught sight of him standing in the door. "What, are you coming to rub it in my face that you stood me up?"
Max held up his hands, palms out in surrender. "I'm sorry!"
"And here I didn't think it was possible for anyone to be more of a dickhead than you've been—yet somehow you've managed! Well, congratu-fuckin'-lations! You win! Happy?"
"Meta!" Winry shouted, scandalized. "What are you talking about?"
Both of them ignored her. "I didn' mean it!" Max asserted. "I swear! Linds, please, gimme a chance! I'll esplain!"
"Oh, YEAH? You'll EXPLAIN? Why don't you explain to Idiot here—" she gestured to Winry— "all about how you asked me to meet you for some stupid reason or other, then totally DISAPPEARED on me even though I waited for HOURS?"
"Meta—" Winry tried to intervene.
"Winry," Luna interrupted. She'd come to see what all the commotion was. "I got this. Trust me."
Luna gestured for Winry to leave and for Max to step back from the door, then bent down so she was right in Meta's face. "Listen to me, Mee-mee, okay? Just listen. You trust me, right?"
"…not a freakin' baby, you know…" she muttered.
"Your friend here has a very good reason for missing out on that prior engagement, and—"
"I can't believe it, you talked to my friends?" Meta burst out, disgusted. "What kind of lowlife would invade someone's privateness like that? Are the others in on it? Don't lie to me."
Luna was unprovoked. "I never lie and I'm not lying when I say that this boy has no ill intentions toward you. Please allow him to explain the situation to you fully. I also believe he has some additional unfinished business."
"I couldn't care less about his 'additional unfinished business,' Bigwords McStupidface! And anyway, I'm sick, so I don't have to talk to anyone."
"Well, that's a terrible excuse," said Winry. While Luna had been speaking quietly to Meta, Winry had come back to see how things were going, and Ed and Al had joined her. (Joli had followed the crowd as well, which meant there were now seven people standing around in an entranceway that comfortably fitted three.)
"The rules in this house have been the same in this house my whole life," Ed told her. "If you're healthy enough to yell, play, or bonk your annoying little brother on the head, you're healthy enough to do all of the unfun things too."
Meta made a face at him.
"Plus, holding grudges is bad for your health," Al added. "So maybe you could benefit from a dose of insight."
Meta still didn't look convinced. She tried to make a break for it, but Luna seized her arm and stopped her dead.
Luna then switched strategies. "You will go. You will go now. If you do not go, I will drag you kicking and screaming and you will STILL go. If you refuse to go, I will push you out the door and lock the bolt. No more of this shit. I won't tolerate it."
Luna then proceeded to all but shove Meta out the front door, then she made good on her promise and proceeded to lock it.
As soon as that was done, Luna's apparent anger melted away. "Okay, we've only got about half an hour until showtime, everyone! Let's check over the supplies one last time. Remember, people will probably start showing up here as soon as Meta and Max are out of sight, so this is the last call to make sure everything is perfect!" After making that speech, she bounded into the living room and busied herself doing something semi-noisy.
"Y'know…" said Ed to Winry, "when you take the mood swings into consideration, it's like, if you didn't hit people with wrenches or cry at them, and if you were crazy, weirdly bleach-blonde, too skinny, and flat-chested…"
"If you finish that sentence, Ed, I'll… I'll… I'll develop a nasty habit of surreptitiously groping your man-junk under the table whenever we're in a public place at a time when you can't excuse yourself. Imagine how torturous that would be."
His eyes widened to approximately the size of dinner plates. "Please never do that."
She forced a straight face and jabbed his chest dramatically with her finger. "You're on notice."
"Yes'm," he joked in return.
"Get a room, you two," said Al, unamused. "Now, where did the baby run off to…?"
"I think she went to go bother Den," said Winry.
"Well, she can't do that right now; she has to come with us this evening. S'not like we can leave her here alone…"
"Oh my God," Melinda said in a tone that said something unimaginable had just occurred. "She just shoved me out the door! She's so dead!"
Be careful what you wish for…
"Shut up!" she ordered.
"I didn' e'en say nothin' yet," said Max, affronted.
"Not you, idiot," Melinda snapped without thinking. "My brother."
"Oh. I ain't heard nothin'." He was quiet for a moment while Melinda was checking under the mat in hopes of finding the spare key. "How many brothers you got?"
"One. None. Doesn't matter. Hmm, I wonder if they hide it in the bushes…"
"I don' get it."
"My brother is DEAD, okay? God! Keep the hell up!" She stomped off the porch past him, resigning herself to crawling on her hands and knees for the spare.
"But… then why'd ya say shut up?"
"Because… just because! Look, you shut up too. I need to find the—ow, my arm! Stupid bush—keys!"
"Maybe they're un'er the eave? Tha's where my parents keeps 'em."
"Well, the eave is like eight feet tall, and I'm 4'9", so how do you expect me to get it if it's up there? Anyway, Luna and Ed and Winry are all pretty short for their ages. Ed especially 'cause he's a boy and he should be taller. But Luna's actually the shortest. Anyway, Pinako was even shorter than them when she was… uh, not dead. Al's the only one tall enough to reach up there easily. Why would they hide the key in a place where only one person can get it? That defeats the purpose of having an emergency spare key."
"Oh. Well, uh, while you're gonna be crawling in the bushes…" He leaned over the railing and looked at her protruding legs. "Min' if I esplain about what happ'nd?"
"I won't be listening, but you could try."
"For God's sake, yes! Tell me! Sheesh! Gotta spell everything out for you people…"
Max was the youngest and smallest of four brothers, and if there was one thing he had learned it was how to throw a punch. He knew he was no angel about it either. The only thing holding him back was the fact that underneath it all, Lindy was still a girl. An irascible, bratty, frustrating girl, but a girl nonetheless. And you weren't supposed to hit girls. Never, never, never ever.
He sucked in a big breath of chill October air  and explained once again the story of what had happened to his family last week. He finished by apologizing for missing their meeting, and said, "I was wond'rn, Lindy, if it was okay for us t' have this li'l ronday-voo today instead'a just forgettin' 'bout it. 'Cause I have som'm real import'nt t'say. An'… um, yeah. It's real import'nt."
"Well, out with it, idiot. What's this thing that's so important?"
"Um, well… could you, uh, stop crawlin' 'round in the bushes for a sec?"
"Why? Do you think the spare might be hidden somewhere else on the porch?"
"No. I mean, maybe. But I don' care 'bout the spare. Look, can ya jus' get outta the bushes and talk to me like a person?"
"You're not really interesting enough to me to merit that kind of specialized attention."
Max frowned at her. "Uh…"
"You and your 'uh's," she observed. "Can't you just say what you want to say?"
"Uh…" Luna had warned him about how Lindy could be, and had advised him that the best course of action in her case was to be Machiavellian: gentle if convenient, forceful when necessary. "You're never going to find the key, Lindy."
Her head poked out of the top of the bush. Her hair was catching on the branches. "What do you know about it?"
"Luna hid the key. At least, she said she was gonna."
"Why didn't you tell me earlier?"
"'Cause you'd'a pitched a fit," he said nonchalantly as he walked down the steps and cae around to stand in front of her bush.
"What makes you think I'm not going to pitch a fit now?"
He reached into the mass of leaves, found her wrist, and tugged, ignoring her protests. "'Cause now we're goin' for a walk, whether you wanna or no. C'mon."
A butterfly flaps its wings…
Patrick Ingalls was barely four years old when he tragically drowned while playing with his big brother Max by the river.
His mother Holly never really got over it. She was forever scarred with the fear of losing a child. When Hannah Ingalls suffered a (relatively) small injury, Holly insisted that her daughter be transported to a hospital. Since the Ingallses didn't have family in Resembool to keep an eye on the other kids, Holly had no choice but to haul all of her other sons to the next town. As a result, Max Ingalls was unable to fulfill a promise he had made to a classmate of his.
Meta Erlich ran home in tears, then demanded of her family that she be 'forbidden' to go to the surprise birthday party of one of her friends, a girl by the name of Tricia McMillan.
The tiny gust of air ripples outward…
Tricia McMillan's mother Nadine had been missing for four months, ever since the onset of the Aerugean Fever. Frank and Nadine McMillan were the owners and operators of a small shop that sold perfumes, candles, and seasonal party supplies.
Just a few days after Meta Erlich missed the birthday party of Tricia McMillan, Frank McMillan got a rather odd phone call from a girl named Winry Rockbell, who placed an order for eight dozen miniature unscented candles. Frank had heard a rumor of what was in store and quickly realized what Winry meant to do with these candles. Frank rushed to give Winry all those candles free, but declined to explain why, hoping she would write it off as simple charity, which she did.
The ripples gain momentum, like a snowball rolling down a steep hill…
Two days later, Alphonse Elric called Jack and officially invited him to come along. He accepted.
That Friday, Max Ingalls came to Meta Erlich's home and convinced her to take a walk with him.
He took her to a place by the river. It was a special place for Max, because it was the place where a dam once stood.
A breath of wind becomes a gale; a splash becomes a tsunami…
Max engaged her in a long conversation to distract her from what she would inevitably notice: the glow of eight dozen lit candles in sixteen dozen hands. As they approached the planned gathering place, an impressive hush descended over the twilight. The sound of quiet breathing and feet shuffling over the grass and dirt were the only discernable noises.
Just as Meta inevitably turned around and saw the oncoming crowd of people, someone started humming the somber tune to a familiar Amestrian folk hymn, and it quickly caught on in the crowd.
Meta looked like she wanted to yell at Max for bringing her here and planning this, or maybe at the crowd for existing, but the sight of so many people coming towards her in tandem was an impressive sight, even for someone as jaded as she.
Even the moon seemed to be holding her breath.
Someone handed Meta a candle, but she couldn't see or hear them between the tears in her eyes and Eli's din in her head.
Friends and family and people she only half-knew surrounded her. The sense of clusteredness somehow escaped feeling claustrophobic.
A hundred other butterflies, a thousand maybe…
An old woman hobbled along, supported by her teenage granddaughter. Frank MacMillan sent a prayer to the heavens for Nadine. A man held a baby in his arms, while the woman next to him carried both of their candles. Holly Ingalls kissed her husband on the mouth for the first time in eight months. A child balanced her candle on one palm and swung her father's hand back and forth in the other. June Ryder kissed her mother, her two little brothers Brian and James, and her aunt Lucy.
Overcome with emotion, Winry Rockbell started to cry. Edward Elric put his arms around her—both arms—and, seeing this display of affection; Alphonse finally totally forgave himself for the fact that Ed still bore that automail. It was a part of who Ed was now, and it worked for him. That was all that mattered… all that had ever mattered.
Al visually searched the crowd until he found Luna, then he hurried to her, being careful of his candle (and everyone else's) but when he finally got to her, he swayed on the balls of his feet and didn't look like he knew what to do with himself. Luna solved this problem by pulling his face down to her level and kissing him.
Someone was talking in Meta's ear about the symbolism of the candles—probably Syiera, assuming she was even here—but Meta wasn't really listening.
These are people, she was realizing as if for the first time. They weren't 'country hicks' or 'naggy annoyances'—they were people, people with hopes and dreams and thoughts and opinions who had come here because they just cared.
And not even just about Meta, either. People were praying for their own loved ones, names etched into the sides of candles.
The motion of a butterfly flapping its wings causes a tornado somewhere far away…
Meta stared at her candle, watched a bead of wax drift slowly down the side, watched the flame flicker without dying.
It's me, said Eli. I'm here. I won't leave you.
"But what if I want you to?" she whispered.
Are you sure?
She was very quiet. Finally, "Yes."
Then do it.
Meta took a breath and blew out the candle.
 = It's kind of a weird metaphor. Ed is championing the power of hard work and having faith in oneself. The pied piper analogy is his way of warning against the dangers of being a sheep. Luna disagrees with him—not to say that she doesn't agree about the dangers of sheepitude, mind you—she is arguing that life can be fickle, and that what you put into it is not always what you gain. She doesn't feel that Ed is being realistic by assuming that life is as fair as equivalent exchange. The irony is that, on one level, they actually agree. Ed and Luna both share that streak of idealism. But on a more basic level, they disagree because the root of Ed's idealism is that he's convinced that all things are possible—things like, oh, I don't know, bringing back the dead?—whereas the root of Luna's form of idealism has more to do with a fear of reality and the desire to deny reality. Basically what I'm saying is that while Luna would say, "the world could be a better place," Ed would say, "I can make the world a better place." It's the motivation for action that differentiates them.
 = I've been too vague with the timeline on this fic. I do have a general idea of when things happen, but I'm not exactly dating them. So just trust me on this; it's still October.
I hope this chapter affected you reading it as much as it affected me writing it. It took a long time to make the words flow as perfectly as I wanted them to, and of course it's not perfect, but… That's the ending I always wanted for ENATAgain.
Don't expect any sequels or continuations of ENAT this time. In the future, I might write oneshots that are in continuity with ENAT and ENATAgain, but they will in all cases be standalones.
Thank you readers for sticking with it through thick and thin. You made writing this worth it.