Author's Notes: A lot of things have happened in my life since I posted the last chapter. Good things. Obligatory extreme caps lock episode to follow.
This: OWL CITY, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE?
This: I HAVE COMMISSIONED KAMDEN TO DRAW ME EDKI LOVE FOR CHARITY. GO CHECK IT OUT WHEN IT SHOWS UP AND THEN GO COMMISSION HER IT'S FOR A GOOD CAUSE PEOPLE GO DO EEEET.
Also this: THERE'S A SUPER-AWESOME NEW MY LITTLE PONY SHOW ON YOUTUBE AND I 'EFFING LOVE THE CHARACTERS AND THE ART AND THE ENTIRE SERIES SJK'FKLHD;JHDS;SFNFJF';FEJ'KJFS;AJKSD
I DON'T EVEN
OK, I'm done.
Enjoy the chapter.
Disclaimer: I do not own Fruits Basket or Fullmetal Alchemist. Both series rightfully belong to Natsuki Takaya-sensei and Hiromu Arakawa-sensei. The scenes that go in sync with the Fruits Basket manga also belong to Natsuki Takaya-sensei. Everything else mentioned belongs to their rightful creators and owners. Plot belongs to me.
Inspiration for this chapter: Rhinestone Eyes by Gorillaz, Hallelujah by Rufus Wainwright, Vanilla Twilight by Owl City, Fuzzy Blue Lights by Owl City, Let Go by Frou Frou, and The First Time by U2.
Reminders: Welcome to the theater that is my mind. While in the theater, we ask you to please refrain from the following: No smoking, no believing, no noise, no killing, and absolutely NO detection. This is "The Alchemist and the Zodiac". Enjoy it with us.
Dublith, 3:30 A.M...
Interdimensional travel was a bitch. Those were the words going through Ed's mind at the moment. One minute, he was flying through space and time, in that strange blackness filled with eyes, the next, it spat him out somewhere and his cheek hit some kind of stone floor. He didn't know how much time had passed since The Gate took him away. It could've been minutes, or even a hundred years. Either way, the landing was not fun.
Not how he pictured his return to his own world would turn out.
He was sore from hitting the floor, wherever it was, his eyes still stung from breaking down in Tohru's arms earlier, and his head ached. The knapsack he had taken with him was squished under him, which made him worry that he'd crushed that bento box.
A groan escaped his lips at the pain, before he rolled over on his back, trying to will away the throb in his brain and figure out where the hell he was. There was silence when the crackles of power from a transmutation had died down, not even the sound of anyone breathing.
What he did hear was slow, hesitant, and heavy footfalls, before the rustle of fabric.
He opened his eyes.
Above him was rippling muscle, complete with sparkles, a huge, blonde mustache and tears of joy.
Definitely not the first person Ed wanted to see when he got home.
A scream of terror had barely escaped his lips before he was being smothered in a bone-crushing hug.
"OH EDWARD ELRIC, WELCOME HOME!"
"YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW WORRIED WE'VE ALL BEEN-"
"I CAN'T BREATHE!" He squeaked helplessly from the Major's iron grip. Thankfully, Armstrong released Ed before he could choked to death. Upon staggering to his feet and balancing himself, it was then that he could get a grip on his surroundings.
First of all, he was in a basement. A very large basement that had scorch marks from the transmutation covering the walls. Standing well out of firing range, by the stairs, was his teacher, her husband, and a boy with sandy brown hair, wearing clothes a tad different from the ones Ed wore while in the military, and with brown eyes that were the size of dinner plates.
Armstrong stepped back from Ed a ways, obviously sensing the tense but hopeful atmosphere of their reunion. The alchemist could only stare at the boy, who stared back at him.
And then the boy smiled.
Something inside him broke then; maybe it was because he was so relieved that it was finally all over and that the evidence of the fruits of their labors were right in front of him, or maybe it was because he was still teary from parting from Tohru on the other side, or maybe it was because he was just so goddamn tired of crying.
Either way, the dam broke once more.
With a soft whimper, Ed charged. Al let out a shocked squeak before he was pulled into a tight hug.
Just about ten minutes earlier, Al was up and about the Curtis residence, getting himself something to drink. He couldn't sleep whatsoever. Ed was supposed to be here today, or tomorrow. He just had no idea when. They had created the transmutation circle down in the basement, where there was space and at the same time wouldn't attract the eyes of the military. It had been the one they had been using to look for Ed, so hopefully he would appear there rather than the abandoned city beneath Central.
After that, all they could do was wait.
Armstrong, who had been visiting Al and the Curtis's (A friendship between him and Sid had been forged on account of their awesome muscles), was snoring upstairs, having had an assessment today and invited to the Curtis's for dinner. Al's teacher and her husband were both asleep as well, and the younger Elric found himself wandering the house, trying to stay calm.
As he sipped from his mug of hot cocoa, the dishes in the sink began to quiver. A rumbling sound then followed. The younger Elric set his glass back on the counter, far from the edge, and headed to the basement. Scratch that, he sprinted to the basement, where he found the transmutation circle flashing to life.
It woke the rest of the household, apparently, and the three adults came running downstairs to find the whirlwind of energy and chaos almost swallowing the entirety of the basement.
They couldn't do much but crush themselves to the stairwell as the tornado of alchemic power left scorch marks on the walls and grew larger, before finally, a wormhole opened, and it spat out something roughly around Al's size before disappearing in a flash.
There was silence, before the figure moved and groaned. Al knew that hair, the strange style of clothing, the size, all of it.
That was the last thing he could remember at the moment, because the rest of his thoughts were shorted out by the sight of tears falling from the eyes of his older brother, who was clinging to him as though his life depended on him.
Ed. Was. Crying.
Ed never cried.
Al couldn't say anything. He wanted to comfort his brother, but wasn't able to get his body into action. He had to do something, anything!
So he started crying to.
That wasn't helping.
He heard awkward shuffling from the other three adults, but didn't really care. All he could really do was hold onto the only family he had left in this world.
Ed was home.
He had his big brother back.
Before long, Ed composed himself, pulling himself out of his younger brother's embrace and hastily wiping his eyes, sniffling.
The younger Elric smiled through his tears.
"Welcome back, Ed." The elder alchemist froze when a dangerous, tight voice broke through their little sob-fest, as did Al. Despite the fact that Al loved his brother dearly and would always protect him from danger, he immediately and swiftly shuffled about 20 feet away when their teacher glared down at the elder Elric.
Ed, sweating uncomfortably, turned slowly to look up at his teacher.
"H-Hi Teacher, so um nice to see you again, um, yeah-"
The walls of the basement received further damage when the young alchemist went crashing into them, creating an impressive crater and scaring the living daylights out of Al. After he peeled himself from the wall and went crashing to the floor, Ed scrambled up and cowered under the looming figure of his teacher, who was grinning madly and cracking her knuckles.
(The following beating is censored out for the sake of my readers sanity.)
"Your teacher has a strange way of showing affection." Armstrong commented to Al as he carried the moaning, bloody pile known as Edward Elric up the stairs and to the kitchen, where he would be patched up.
"Evil...woman..." Ed choked out from Armstrong's grip. Somehow, he was still gripping his satchel tightly.
"Good to have you back, idiot apprentice." Izumi chuckled before pulling out a first aid kit from the cupboard after they seated Ed at the table.
"It seems you've got a story to tell, Ed." Sid remarked as Al patched his brother's wounds up, and only now was he getting a good, long look at Ed.
He sure as hell was taller, but not much taller than Al, it seemed. His hair was longer, tied back in a ponytail and wearing those strange clothes from the other side.
But...there was something different about the older Elric that had Al absolutely confused.
There was emotion on his face. Not fake smiles or strained look's of happiness, actual emotion.
And what Al could see, in addition to happiness, was a guarded look of extreme sadness.
For the past ten days, Al had been fretting over what was bothering Ed about leaving the other side. His hesitation and request for more time was enough to make him worry. It was lessened, somewhat, but not by much. There was something that had Ed in this state of melancholy; bittersweet happiness that was tempering with their reunion.
The younger Elric wanted to wait until they were alone to talk to him about it, since Armstrong and Sid were already pestering Ed about his time on the other side.
"Sorry, Brother." Al apologize as he tightened a bandage.
And so Ed spun a tale of this alternate world into their minds; a world where alchemy was considered something impossible, instead based on equations and physics that rushed in an age of flying machines, monstrosities of war, something called 'digital' technology, and globalization. The culture of the country he stayed in was rich, the people were overly polite and a lot of food was health orientated, but still, he had found a place to stay while he was there, with a family who was willing to look after him until he found a way home.
He didn't tell them much about the family he stayed with, but he did say a lot about Hohemheim, in which he showed them the man's ashes, and that their father's request was to be buried beside Trisha.
He also showed them the book that had brought him back, which had Izumi immediately pouring over it's contents as he explained the equations and theorems behind it, and settled into place inside Al's mind as he absorbed this new information about alchemy.
The sun was beginning to rise by the time Ed stopped talking. He was red-eyed and weary looking, but still awake, and sipping at a cup of cocoa. The room was silent as they took this in.
"Bizarre?" Izumi answered for Armstrong.
"Yeah, it was pretty weird at first." Ed chuckled, setting his mug aside, apparently trying to stifle a yawn. "But still, it wasn't all bad. Got used to it pretty quick."
Armstrong stepped forward and patted Ed's shoulder, nearly causing the chair to collapse underneath him. "It's good to have you back, Ed. Lot's has happened here in this country since you've been gone."
"What about the Fuhrer?"
"Fuhrer Bradley disappeared the day you did." Izumi told Ed, who snickered slightly.
"I can imagine."
"The Parliament took over." Al added. "They've been trying to form peace treaties with the other countries."
"Then that means we did it, huh?" Ed breathed. "We stopped the Homunculi."
"Indeed you did, Edward Elric." Armstrong agreed, nodding. "We're possibly going to try and destroy that city beneath Central, so nobody ever get's the idea of creating a Philosopher's Stone that way again. And by 'we', I mean myself and several other State Alchemists who were aware of what was going on."
"Sounds like a plan."
A yawn finally broke free from Ed, and Al frowned.
"How long have you been up, Brother?"
"Since yesterday morning." He sounded exhausted. His voice was kinda raspy, too, and his eyes were tired.
Far more tired than they would be if he was only sleep-deprived.
"Get some sleep then." Sid told him, gesturing towards the stairs in the hall. Ed nodded slowly, and stood. "We'll check the train schedules and hopefully send you both back to Resembool as soon as we can. You have people waiting for you there, Ed."
Al was helping Ed down the hallway when he turned the corner and bumped into a pajama-clad, tiny child with long, black hair. Ed promptly stopped short, eyes widening.
The Homunculus boy looked shocked at the sight of Edward Elric, and immediately backed several feet away, looking scared.
He had automail limbs underneath those night clothes, and his prosthetic foot clacked against the floor when he stepped. Ed stared at the boy, and Wrath stared right back, looking slightly frightened. It was another few moments before he shuffled awkwardly and looked down.
"I heard you helped Al find me." Ed said to him, taking a step forward. "Thanks for that."
"N-no problem. Mom wanted you to come back, so..."
Ed smiled in a friendly way towards Wrath, which left Al absolutely baffled. Ed never forgave enemies, especially ones that happened to steal his limbs and then lose them again.
"Thanks for that." He said to Wrath, before ascending the stairs.
Something had definitely changed in his brother, but for the better or the worse was yet to be seen.
6 hours later...
It was to the sound of someone eagerly eating food did Al awaken to. Since both he and his brother had, apparently, been sleep-deprived from staying up all night and the previous day, both collapsed on the same bed upstairs upon reaching it and simply fell asleep without another word, and at one point, Al had turned over and clutched at his big brother's shirt, holding onto it in a vice grip. His hands were still in that position, but there was no shirt for him to be grasping onto.
Now did Al understand that he was laying with his back to the source of his awakening and the sun high in the sky outside. It was noon; lunchtime. His stomach growled in anticipation.
It wasn't helping that he had stirred at the sound of someone eating. Most likely Ed.
Al turned his head over his shoulder, spotting his brother at the desk littered with alchemy books and papers, eating something from a brightly colored box. Looked like a lot of rice and other kinds of food Al had never seen before.
But it smelled delicious. The scent drifting over to him was driving his stomach crazy.
The younger Elric sat up, yawning and stretching. Ed turned at the noise, and smiled.
"Hey Al." He held out the box to him. "Hungry?"
"Definitely." Sliding out of bed and straightening his black outfit, he took the fork and stabbed the first thing within reach, which he stuffed into his mouth. Tasted like egg, with some kind of spice. Al let out a hum of appreciation at the burst of flavor.
"Isn't it?" Ed chuckled, handing Al something that looked like a triangular clump of rice with something stuffed in it's center. "Here's the last of the rice balls."
"Where'd you get this?"
He did not miss the shadow that flickered across Ed's face, but it still vanished within a second.
"A friend gave it to me before I left."
Al blinked, and stared at Ed for a second before biting into the clump of rice, chewing thoughtfully.
"Speaking of which," They were alone, this was the best time to ask. "Why'd you need more time back there? Why couldn't you have just come home with me when I found you again?"
Ed's chewing seemed to pause for a moment, like he was thinking of something to say. He swallowed before speaking.
"I had some loose ends to tie up."
There was truth in his voice, but also a hint of a lie. Ed was always to good liar of the two, but being with him for so long allowed Al to tell when he was fibbing in an instant.
However, before he could get a comment out, there was the sound of Izumi's voice calling for them.
Or rather, her screaming at them to get their asses downstairs before she kicked them all the way to Central.
Al dropped the subject on the spot, favoring to do as his teacher said just to make sure that threat didn't come true. He followed his brother closely as they headed downstairs.
Ed was the first one downstairs, which Al was grateful for, for when he set a single toe on the final stair, Izumi's foot sent him flying.
"You let yourself get WEAK, idiot apprentice!"
"SOOOORRRRYYY!" Ed screamed as he was sent into the kitchen wall. Al, having been living with this housewife for 3 months, was prepared for the foot that went flying at him, and quickly dodged. After managing to survive that with minimal bruises, the younger brother went to peel his older brother from the wall.
"Pathetic!" Izumi snarled at the elder Elric when he was able to see straight again. "Have you been lying around the entire time you've been on the other side?"
"Hell no! I've been trying to find a way back for five months!"
"That's no excuse not to train your body and let it soften!"
"I was living with two guys who'd try to beat me up on a regular basis, of course I trained!"
Al sighed as the two exchanged yells, but smiled.
Despite his worries about his brother, it was good to have him home.
3 days later...
The train was slowly crawling down the tracks, a loud whistling sound alerting everyone that it was leaving the station, right behind it were two boys, both carrying suitcases. With them were two hulking man, a woman and a small boy.
"I told you both you overslept!" Izumi shouted at them, prompting them to run faster.
"HEY! YOU KEPT ME UP ALL NIGHT WITH QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BOOK!" Ed retorted, tightening his grip on his baggage before tossing it onto the back of the train.
Both Elric boys made a flying leap onto the end of the train, just barely making it onto the railing before swinging on it. Al turned to wave to their teacher, her family, and Armstrong.
"BYE TEACHER! WE'LL COME VISIT AGAIN, SOON!"
"FAREWELL, ELRIC BROTHERS!"
"Bye!" Ed stopped waving when their voices stopped reaching them. He then sighed in relief.
"Maybe now we can get a decent night's sleep, eh Al?" The younger Elric chuckled in response.
The walked into the compartment of the train, searching for an empty spot and eventually finding one. Ed sat down, yawning.
"So, we'll stop by Central, I'll officially sign off from the military, give Mustang what's coming to him, and then head back to Resembool to bury Dad."
"Sounds like a plan."
Most of the train ride was silent, with Al reading an alchemy book and constantly looking at his brother, who was snoozing. Occasionally, Al would catch words from him. Some of which were names he'd never heard before. One was most commonly muttered by the elder Elric, but Al couldn't make out what it was.
He couldn't figure out what was wrong with his brother. He'd been a bit depressed, and it was showing, not as much as when he had arrived home, but could tell it was getting worse little by little. He often caught Ed looking around whatever room he was in when he thought he was alone, or thought no one was looking, as though he was searching for someone who might emerge from somewhere.
Al hadn't the chance to ask him about it since most of his time was spent with Izumi, showing her the book he'd gotten on the other side or training with her. By the time he was done training, Ed would be so exhausted he couldn't make a sound other than weak groans. Also, he spent some time with Wrath, trying to figure out whether or not some 'Dante' person was still alive or not. Probably not, they'd concluded.
Whenever Al did get to talk to Ed was in group conversations, and all he'd be able to do was inform Ed of how things in Resembool were going. Winry missed him, Rose was working to rebuild Lior, and things were relatively peaceful nowadays. Ed would also tell Al the stories of those four years they'd spent together that he'd forgotten. It wasn't ringing a bell, but at least he had a clear picture of what had happened.
Still, he couldn't shake the feeling that Ed was trying to avoid this at all costs. He had to know what was wrong.
Central City, 2:30 P.M...
When Fuhrer Bradly had disappeared, control had been handed to the Parliament, and they immediately set to work on ceasing the war, working on peace treaties and giving the Ishbalan's their land back. Which meant a lot of paperwork for everyone.
No, it meant so much paperwork that it physically exhausted anyone who was put to the task of signing it and/or sorting it.
Particularly one unit.
"Man...I wish Mustang was here..." A voice weakly groaned from underneath one pile of papers.
"Same, Havoc." Came a deeper voice.
"He'd burn all this paperwork to a crisp..."
Fuery pulled himself away from his mountain of documents and straightened his glass, looking at everyone. All had collapsed onto their desks face-down and were looking tormented at the inhumane workload they still had to get done. He worried that the drool coming out of the corners of their mouths would damage the papers. Despite the fact that he hated the amount of work, they would get in trouble if the papers were actually damaged.
"Uh, guys, you might wanna' wipe your mouths."
"Can't lift head...too tired..."
The door opened, and then shut. When the voice of a woman, strict with an underlying threat, spoke up, the men shot upright and got back to signing the papers.
"I hope you four aren't slacking off."
"Not at all Lt.!" Havoc said, making an exaggerated and flourishing signature on one paper, which looked amusing considering the fact that he was sweating nervously.
"Yeah, we were just...examining the papers closely, looking for flaws!" Breda added. Falman got to work on his paper without another word.
Hawkeye sighed, setting her bag down and sitting at her desk.
"I swear, if there was ever a unit that was laziest, it would be you guys."
"Oh come on, Lt., we've been at this for days! Why can't Mustang come and do his job?"
At that, Hawkeye narrowed her eyes, making Breda jump.
"I told you before, the General's not feeling well as of late. He needs rest."
At that, the men shut their mouths and got back to work. They'd heard about his eye, and his recent depression. It wasn't too bad now, but anyone could see that it was getting worse as time went by. Apparently, it'd gotten to the point where he was reluctant to use alchemy.
And they couldn't help but feel Ed's disappearance had something to do with it.
Their afternoon went by slowly, the only sounds being the scribbling of pens, and the occasional snore, which was immediately followed by the click of a gun, and then scrambling to wake up fully. Nonetheless, by the time their shift was over, the crew was ready to fall over with exhaustion.
"Headache..." Havoc groaned.
"At least we got this week's workload done." Falman added, standing up and stretching.
"I say we go out for a drink or two!"
"I'm seconding that!"
Riza chuckled softly as Breda and Falman whooped in agreement, pulling off her work uniform jacket. Well, even without Mustang or Ed in their midst, the crew hadn't changed much. They still complained about work, made bets about Havoc's many failed dates, and went out drinking.
Somehow, the normalcy in her life, as normal as it got, at least, was somewhat reassuring to her.
Hawkeye tuned out their chatter as they made their way down the halls of Central HQ, filled with other officers turning in for the day. She should probably stop by Mustang's apartment to check on him, tell him that his unit missed him and his snapping fingers, possibly try to persuade him to come join her on her day off. He needed to get out of the gloom of his apartment and breathe in some fresh air. It'd be good for him.
She was so wrapped up in her thoughts that she didn't notice that the rest of her unit had stopped short. They were standing atop the steps at the entrance to HQ, frozen solid. Riza looked at them oddly after recovering from bumping into Breda.
"What's going on?"
Their only response was to point, and as Riza circled their stiff bodies, she could see their gaping mouths.
Upon looking down the stairs, her expression imitated theirs, though due to her well-practiced way of not showing emotion, it wasn't as exaggerated.
Ascending the stairs was Alphonse. Riza had seen him back in his normal body before, courtesy of some pictures that Sheska had gotten from Winry, but the person right behind him was the cause of their shock.
There was Edward Elric, alive and well.
He had grown a few inches, from he looks of it, and was slightly taller than Alphonse. Adorning him as his usual clothes from his days traveling the country, and his hair in it's trademark braid, only it was a lot longer.
By the time the two boys had reached the halfway point of the stairs did the crew finally react.
That seemed to have caught Ed's attention, for his gaze jerked up from Al's towards them, as the four men hurried down the steps towards him. Riza smiled, and followed slowly.
By the time she got down to their level both Al and Ed were getting pats on their back and shoulders and being pestered about Ed had been all this time.
"Fullmetal, you're alive!"
"Geez Chief, we thought you were a goner!"
"Where've you been?"
Ed managed to brush their hands off, and Riza could see he was smiling. He looked weary from traveling, obviously, but still smiling.
"OK, OK! I'm alive, alright?" The alchemist chuckled.
"Oh man Ed, we thought we were never gonna' hear from you again!" Fuery laughed.
"Where ya' been all this time, Chief?"
"It's a long story." Al told them, managing to free his brother from being encircled by Mustang's crew.
"What are you doing back here then?" Riza asked Ed, who simply shrugged.
"Eh, I figured I might as well properly retire from the military to get them off my ass for good." He told her. "Otherwise, Colonel Bastard's gonna' have a field day with insulting me after being deprived of it for five months."
Ed seemed to noticed when aforementioned Mustang's crew visibly deflated, and Al was the one who had the sense to ask what was wrong.
"The General's...not feeling well, as of late." Riza sighed. "He's been depressed."
"Mustang...depressed?" Ed's voice obviously told her that he did not think those two words went together. At all.
"Yeah, he started acting like that a few weeks after you disappeared." Falman told him.
"He's hardly shown up at work since." Breda added.
Ed looked at Al, and the boy did likewise. Riza sensed one of those unspoken conversations go between them that one could associate to close siblings. In all her years of seeing Ed and Al come to and from Mustang's office, she had often seen long negotiations fly between their locked gazes within seconds. This one took about five seconds long, but it was definitely worth a good hour of talking. They both nodded.
"Can we go see him?" Al asked, a bit hesitantly. Riza blinked, but nodded.
Ed bade goodbye to the rest of Mustang's crew, who were still dead-set on heading to the pub, and followed Hawkeye down the steps.
She thought he looked a bit nervous, for some reason. Maybe for his superior officer's well-being...
30 minutes later...
Al wanted to believe that Ed was only going to visit Mustang so he could get the former Colonel's ass in gear and sign Ed out of the military, but that was difficult to believe when he saw genuine concern appear on his brother's face as they approached Roy's apartment.
Al knew that despite everything, Ed did have some underlying respect for his superior, and to hear that he was depressed on his behalf was enough to have him worried. That seemed a bit normal for his recently changed brother.
Riza was the one to knock, calling inside quietly. There was a muffled response which Al immediately placed as the Flame Alchemist's voice, even though he had never heard it before. Hawkeye opened the door, and walked in first, then Ed, then Al.
The black haired officer was sitting by a window, where the light of sunset was leaking in, looking away from them and holding a recently emptied plate in his hands. He was wearing military pants and a simple white shirt, as though he'd tried to get dressed and go to work but gave up halfway.
"General, you have visitors." Riza told him. The man turned, and his single eye widened at the sight of the boy standing between Riza and Alphonse.
Ed looked shocked, too, but that was probably because of the eyepatch covering his face. They started at one another for a few moments, before Ed seemed to compose himself and smirked at Mustang.
"Colonel Bastard, nice to see you again."
Roy seemed to blink, and then a similar but slightly strained look of teasing appeared on his face. "That's Brigade General to you, Shrimp."
Ed popped a vein, and Al had to restrain him as he tried to rush forward to strangle him. Roy chuckled softly, setting his plate aside and walking over to Ed, obviously still towering over him.
"So, where you been?"
"Places you couldn't even begin to imagine." Ed growled at him through gritted teeth, his eye twitching. "I suggest you take about five steps back."
"That's not very specific, Fullmetal." Roy told him, decidedly not moving away from the blonde youth. Al thought he looked kinda tired, like something had happened to put him in this depression, but obviously, that wasn't holding him back when it came to teasing his brother.
Ed jerked his arms out of Al's grip, but didn't make a move to brutally kill Roy. He crossed his arms and glared up at his superior.
"The other side of The Gate is far more technologically advanced than we are, they don't have alchemy and they run by the laws of physics, now can you get your ass out of this apartment so you can sign me out of the military for good?"
Mustang's composure changed from teasing to a bit down, he placed his hand on the eye patch, which made Ed looked confused.
"I'd love to, Edward," Roy sighed, and looked down at him. "But I can't face my men right now."
"It's complicated." Obviously saying no more about it, Mustang turned, picked up his plate, and started for the kitchen. Riza placed a hand on Ed's shoulder.
"We should go; he needs this time alone."
Ed scowled, swatted her hand off his shoulder and stormed for the door, Al and Hawkeye right behind him.
"Brother, that may have been-"
"Actually, Al, that's the most lively I've seen the General in a long time." Riza told him, a bit grim-faced, making Ed's pace slow to match her's.
"So what's wrong with Colonel Bastard?"
"General." Riza corrected him. "I think it's the fact that you disappeared, combined with the loss of his eye and recent flashbacks of the Ishbalan war that's causing this."
"I guess that would make sense." Ed sighed, obviously bummed out that he didn't get Mustang to sign him out. "How long do you reckon it'll be?"
"Who knows?" Riza groaned. "He started coming to work less and less, and now, he's just stopped showing up for about a month." She frowned down at Ed. "I can't tell you the details of what he's going through, but it's going to be a while before he's back on his feet."
"Great..." Ed muttered.
"You two should go back East." Riza told them, escorting them out of the apartment complex. "You have people waiting for you at home, Edward."
"I know, I know..."
Riza waved to them as she headed back to her own apartment, leaving Ed and Al to walk back to the hotel they were staying at. Al looked over to Ed when they turned the corner.
"You OK, Brother?"
"Yeah..." Ed sighed, and trailed off, apparently lost in his own thoughts.
For once, Al couldn't read them.
Two days later...
The familiar sight of sloping green hills and farmland was reassuring to Al, and Ed, it seemed. Houses dotted the landscape before them as they hopped off the train, carrying their luggage and waving to the conductor, who blanched at the sight of Edward. Obviously, it was weird to see him again.
"Home sweet home..." Ed breathed as they both started down the hill on the dirt roads. His voice sounded bittersweet to Al, and it would hardly be surprising.
He really wished he could remember those past four years he and his brother spent together. It seemed unfair that Ed should bear the burden of it all. And he seemed to be carrying more burdens.
On their trip back to their hometown, Al had finally managed to catch something Ed would mutter as he slept on the train rides.
He wasn't sure what the word began with, but it ended with 'isa'. That was weird. Maybe it was something on the other side, or someone.
It was worrying to him. He wanted his brother to be happy now that all the crap he'd been hearing that he and his brother had been through was over for good. Why couldn't be happy?
Al couldn't muse on this for long, for the Rockbell household came into view, illuminated in a lovely way under the midday sun. Den was sleeping on the front porch, and perked up at the sound of footsteps.
Immediately, the dog started barking and soared down the household porch steps, practically flew across the ground and tackled Ed to the ground in a fight of joy. Al started laughing.
"D-Den, hey, easy!" Ed laughed, trying to sit up as he was covered in licks and nuzzles as the dog continued to bark happily.
Al tried to shoo the dog off of Ed as the front door to the Rockbell household opened.
"Den! Den, you shouldn't-oh...my...god..."
Ed managed to look over the overexcited dog towards Pinako, who's pipe had dropped out of her mouth to the ground as her expression remained in complete shock. The blonde alchemist shot her a grin as he allowed Al to help him up.
"Oh all the stubborn, bullheaded people I know..." The short woman murmured, stepping down the steps and hurrying over to Ed. "You are the worst out of all of them, Edward Elric."
"Nice to see you too, Granny."
The elder woman was about to step forward to give Ed a much deserved (and probably much hated) embrace when a flying object of gray went flying past her head. The projectile hit Ed square in the forehead as he let out a surprised and pained grunt. Al jumped.
He watched Ed fall on his back with a yelp. It was ten seconds later before he shot up and glared at the girl storming down the steps of her porch to him.
"WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO DO, KILL ME?"
"How many times," Winry growled as she got closer, but her composure was getting less and less angry and more and more relieved the closer she got. "How many times have I told you...to call...f-first..."
Al could see Ed's anger abruptly melt as he got up, sheepishly opening his arms as Winry collapsed into them, crying softly and squeezing Ed tight.
"You're home you're home oh God you're home..." Was all Al could catch in one long breath that Winry let out before her voice was lowered to incoherent babbling.
"I'm sorry, Win." Ed chuckled softly, patting her head as he pulled her back, smiling. "I'm home then, OK?"
"Y-yeah." Ed pulled back his hand, and then Winry seemed to notice that was still automail.
More importantly, it wasn't her automail.
The sound of metal coming in contact with a human skull resounded through the
Al seriously worried about the amount of brain cells Ed would lose when Winry was through with him.
"Does everybody wanna' kill me when I finally get home?" Ed muttered to himself as Al placed bandages on his dented and slightly bleeding head. A vein popped as, once again, Pinako twisted his prosthetic arm at an uncomfortable angle just to get a good look at it. Winry shot him a half-glare and a half-smirk from where she was flattening pie crust dough with a roller.
"Only those that you anger, Ed."
"I'm actually impressed with the design." Pinako commented, not paying attention to the current subject. "It's simple, yet efficient and clearly didn't need as much surgery to install. In addition, the receptors for the nerves-"
Al finished patching Ed up, and, tuning out the Rockbell woman's chattering, leaned down to pick up Ed's knapsack from beside his fake leg, brought back with him from the other side.
"We should go bury Dad while the sun's still up."
Ed nodded, and Pinako abruptly dropped Ed's arm, and Winry seemed to freeze in shock.
Ed nodded at the elderly, short woman, taking the knapsack from Al and pulling out the container of ashes.
"Yeah. He wanted to be buried beside Mom, you know?"
Pinako nodded slowly, taking a long drag from her pipe before exhaling slowly.
"I hope he's happy, where ever he is."
The slowly setting sun was illuminating the graveyard by the time they finished filling in Hohemheim's final resting place, beside Trisha Elric. Al watched in silence as Ed clapped his hands and placed them on the ground. A solid rock formed from all the other rocks he'd gathered, and words as well.
Hohemheim of Light
"That'll cause some commotion." Al chuckled slightly, looking over Ed's work and feeling slightly envious. He could use alchemy just by clapping his hands, like their teacher. Al had some gloves with transmutation circles on them, but it wasn't as powerful, obviously.
"Yeah, but I think Dad won't mind." Ed replied. Winry laid some lilies on the grave and turned to the elder Elric.
"So, you gonna' give tell us a story on where you've been all this time?" She asked. Ed shrugged.
"It's pretty complicated, so-"
"Plus, I have to build you new automail." Winry interrupted.
"Hey, you brought automail back from another world!" Winry told him as they descended the hill towards the graveyard gate. Al and Pinako hung back as they both bickered.
"So what, you're just gonna' dissect it? HELL NO!"
"This will be payment for building you newer and better limbs, so you'd better be happy!"
"Well, I can certainly say things won't be quiet around here from now on." Pinako chuckled to Al, who smiled slightly.
"Thanks for giving us a home, Granny."
"Well, don't expect it to be free of charge, you're still gonna' have to do a lot of chores around here."
2 weeks later...
It felt so weird, and so right, being home with his brother.
There were no clouds in the sky as Ed watched the sun vanish behind the countryside horizon, leaving the evening colors to fade ever-so slowly into light blue; a vanilla-colored twilight was what he stared at. The shadow of the his body on the hill where the Rockbell's resided was cast far behind him.
He flexed his new automail hand absently. Winry had made it for him, along with a new leg. She had just finished fitting it on him today, not an hour ago. It was done in exchange for dissecting and studying the ones Ed had gotten from his father. Undoubtedly, she would probably morph it's properties with her current design of automail and make Ed model it.
The past two weeks, after he had told the Rockbells of his time on the other side, had been pretty much just been him getting fitted with Winry's new automail. She talked quite a bit as she worked on it, and Ed just tuned her out, spacing out and staring at the wall as he answered with hums and nods.
Time was a sort of blur once more; fuzzed clarity as he lived in a kind of strange half-existence. He had his beloved brother back, yes, but there was another hole in his soul already.
He tried to ignore it, focus on what he had and not what he had left behind him. They were just a memory now; a memory he obsessively focused on every day just to remember them clearly.
Ed had stored the album under a floorboard beneath his bed, in his and Al's shared room. He didn't want to bring them up with Winry, or Pinako, or even Al. They were apart of his past now; he would remember them, but he would move on.
That was easier said than done.
With a frustrated sigh, Ed plopped down onto his back, staring at the multicolored evening sky and wondering if he could see stars before the light faded entirely. The grass was nice and cool under his back, and the summer air was pleasant. Still, it did nothing to temper with the hurt and longing in his chest.
He wanted to see Kisa; he wanted to see her so badly he could taste it. He wanted to hear her voice, see her smile, hold her hand, he wanted it so much.
But she didn't feel that way about him.
It was pretty obvious that she didn't love him back. He had scared her off; pushed it too far. He crossed the line into a place she didn't want to be. Still, it was for the better. They were from different worlds anyways. He owed it to Al to return home.
Still, he loved her so much it hurt.
She would appear in his dreams sometimes, her back to him and as real as a ghost. He could never touch her. His touches would pass through her as though she was made of smoke. It prompted him to have less sleep in favor of trying to forget. But whenever he did get sleep, she would come back. The more sleep deprived he got, the more she appeared.
Maybe the pain would lessen as time went by. Time heals everything, after all. Scars don't fade, but wounds can close. He just had to keep going; had to keep pushing onwards. This was just a phase, and he would get better once the worst was over, he knew that.
He chose to leave them behind. And there was no way he could go back.
No matter how much he wanted to.
There was the sound of a whine, and Ed glanced up to see Den staring down at him. He smiled at the dog as she plopped down beside him, placing her head on his stomach and looking up at Ed with strangely intelligent eyes. Like she knew the turmoil he felt.
"Hey Den." Ed was surprised by how much his voice sounded choked up, and placed an automail head on the dogs neck, stroking it slowly.
He thought of the Zodiac Tiger again, eyes unfocused as he stared at the slowly darkening sky. He missed her dearly.
What if she hadn't rejected him? What if she loved him back? What would he have done then? So many questions with endless answers.
Ed desperately wished he could move on. That was why he'd burned his house down, right? So he would move on from one mistake and look for a solution. But this was different.
Each day, his longing for his friends and beloved on the other side grew. It was OK, at first, being back here with Al and the Rockbells, but then he truly began to realize that he'd never see the others again.
One side had healed fully, the other was rotting.
Would it even heal one day?
The younger of the Elric's was sitting on the front porch in silence, watching Ed a slight ways down the hill. Den had joined him not two minutes earlier.
Al knew something was eating at his brother. They were together again; they were home. So why wasn't his brother happy?
Ed had a mask on, of sorts, that he began to see cracks and small fissures appear in. It was fully intact when he had first come home, but now, it was breaking.
And still, Ed would probably not say a word about what was bothering him. That was what was so frustrating about him. He would carry all the burdens himself and never let Al see the full extent of their weight.
Why wouldn't his brother talk to him? Why wouldn't he share his burdens?
He was going to have to confront Ed at one point, he knew this much.
He was jerked out of his thoughts when there were footsteps behind him, and Pinako suddenly appeared at the doorway.
"Al," She said. "You have a phone call."
Sighing, Al walked inside, where the phone sat off the hook in the living room. He picked it up.
"Al?" He blinked, surprised at the voice.
And worried at the worry laden in it.
"Mr. Curtis, what's wrong?"
There was a long, tired sigh over the phone.
3 days later...
"What...?" Al felt torn at the weak, mocking glare his weakened teacher shot him from her bed. "Do I really look that bad...?"
"Pretty much..." He heard Ed mutter, and then they both winced when Izumi let out another racking cough, followed by some blood spurting from her mouth. The small boy sitting beside her bed tightened his grip on her hand anxiously, letting out a quiet whimper.
Their teacher was getting worse, Sid had told Al. Both he and his brother had rushed from Resembool to go visit her, possibly one last time.
"Isn't there anything we can do?" Ed asked Sid, who glumly shook and took his wife's other hand.
"It's going to get worse, according to the doctor."
"I'm not so weakened that I-" She was cut off by another wet-sounding cough. "-can't still get some work done around here."
"Izumi, you need to stay in bed."
"I can...get up."
"Mom, please..." Wrath whimpered, and Izumi turned her eyes to him, filled to the brim with sadness.
"Wrath, be a dear and go get Mommy some water, please?"
"OK!" The Homunculus boy took off out of the room. Al watched him go before his teacher called for his attention.
"Teacher..." Ed murmured as he walked closer to Izumi. "What's happening to you?"
"I'm dying." She deadpanned with an annoyed look, and Sid helped her sit up. "The doctor tells me I probably won't see the next month."
"I'm paying the price for the crime I committed..." She sighed. "But it will be that boy who will reap what I have sown..."
"What do you mean?" Al asked.
"I don't want to die, Alphonse, Edward..." Izumi told him weakly. "That boy needs me."
Ed's eyes dropped to the ground, obviously remembering something.
"When I killed Sloth, it was him who suffered." Ed mumbled. "I can't imagine what'll happen if he loses you...there's gotta be something..."
"That's the thing..." Their teacher sighed. "He's a Homunculus. Even if I do live a long life, he'll live forever as a child."
"Dante promised to make us human..." They turned at the sound of Wrath's voice in the doorway as the Homunculus boy brought Izumi a glass of ice water. "I wanted to be human again; I wanted to have a Mommy again, but..."
"She lied..." Ed bitterly spat. "It's the soul that makes us human, not the body."
"I want to be human..." Wrath whimpered, taking hold of Izumi's hand again as Sid placed a large hand on his tiny, automail shoulder. "So I can grow up with Mom..."
Five hours later found Ed and Al sitting at the kitchen table, silently sipping warm beverages. They were silent, and both would occasionally open their mouths, only to close it again.
"What can we do?" Ed finally asked as the clock struck 10:30 at night.
"You said I restored you once," Al mumbled. "With a Philosopher's Stone."
"Yeah, but we don't have one. The only price The Gate will accept is human life."
"What about that book Dad got for you?"
Ed sighed. "It does contain some secrets to human transmutation, but there's no way around Equivalent Exchange in that one."
"But you got back OK."
"It was a one shot deal, Al..."
Al was struck by the despair and bitterness in his voice, leaking through the cracks in the facade he put up recently. Before he could comment on it, Ed spoke again.
"We need something that we can trade..."
There was the pitter-patter of uneven footsteps down the hall; of automail and flesh, before the small Homunculus boy clad in oversized pajamas appeared, looking sleepy but sleepless at the same time.
"Shouldn't you be asleep?" Al asked him. The boy sat down in one of the free chairs with a long sigh.
Ed sighed, and looked away, before placing a hand on the boys head.
"We're thinking of everything, but...we need something to trade."
"You could trade another Homunculus with red stones." Wrath suddenly said, to which Al immediately shook his head.
"Wrath, you're not going to offer-"
"No, I mean, the Homunculus with the source of the red stones."
Al blinked, and realization dawned on Ed's face.
"Gluttony's still down there, isn't he Wrath?"
The boy nodded. "Down in that city, yeah."
"That's it then!" Ed stood up, grabbing some paper and drawing an intricate transmutation circle on it; one from the alchemy book, probably.
"What's it, Brother?"
"If we use Gluttony to open The Gate and use the human souls in those red stones as payment, we can restore Teacher's body. Hell, we might even be able to make you human, Wrath!"
Wrath blinked. "But I thought-"
"It's the soul that makes you human." Ed told the boy. "It's just a matter of alchemy to put one together."
"Last time you got this excited, Brother, you lost your leg and I lost my body." Al reminded him.
"Yeah, but this is to save a life, not bring one back." Ed told his younger brother, who sighed.
"It's worth a shot, I suppose."
Izumi didn't think it was. Immediately after they pitched the plan to use Gluttony, she beat them up, and vomited up at least a pint of blood a second later.
She was a lot more willing to negotiate after that.
Below Central City, 2:30 P.M...
Getting Izumi up and out of bed wasn't easy, despite her determination. In the end, Sid had had to carry her to the train station. She recovered her strength from there, but still had to rely on her husband to get anywhere. Somehow, Wrath had managed to worm his way into coming, as well, much to Izumi's displeasure.
Fuhrer Bradley's mansion was abandoned completely, falling apart in some places but still intact in others. Roy had mentioned that a 'little accident' had caused a fire, but it was put out before the damage could reach the library.
The Homunculus boy showed them the way to the still-operational elevator inside, though they had to go down a few at a time. The abandoned and forgotten city was in ruins, thanks to Ed, and one could see all the way to the other end of the huge cavern easily.
Al stood at the edge of this city, waiting for the elevator to come down with Sid, Wrath and Izumi, looking out to the other side. The Homunculus Wrath had mentioned was nowhere to be seen, but even so, just the sight of this place made the hair on the back of his neck stand straight up.
"Alchemy caused all this Al..." Ed told him, sighing. "It really can be destructive. An entire city wiped out overnight just for two people to live forever..."
"But they didn't in the end, though." The younger Elric told his brother. "Dante was eaten, and Dad..."
The two brother's fell silent, and within the next minute, the sound of the elevator could be heard. The last three of their group appeared, Wrath leading the way as Sid carried Izumi and a very, very large chunk of meat.
"So, we all know the plan?" Ed asked as they headed down the abandoned city, towards the huge ballroom where the original transmutation circle he had set up five months away possibly still was.
"Yeah, but that doesn't mean I like it." Izumi grumbled from where she was being held in Sid's enormous arms.
"I figured you wouldn't." Ed grumbled under his breath.
They found it quick enough, in the middle of the destroyed structure. Al took a deep breath, before he pulled out the alchemy book Ed had brought along from the other side.
"OK, we need to set the bait and change the circle." He said, looking at the circle they would be using from the book. "It shouldn't take too long-"
There was some kind of crash in the far distance, sending up a cloud of dust. Ed scowled, pulling some chalk from pocket and starting to draw new symbols on it.
"We don't have much time!" Ed shouted, running around the huge circle. "Al, give me a hand!"
"Edward, you may want to hurry!" Sid called to him, setting down the meat chunk. Al looked to where they were staring in horror.
Emerging from the dust was...something. It had to be the Homunculus Gluttony. It was huge, pale, had several heads and was bleeding. Only the blood solidified and turned into red crystals.
The main head focused on them. Or rather, focused on Wrath, who glared back.
"I'll distract him!" The Homunculus shouted, running forward.
"WRATH, YOU GET BACK HERE NOW!"
"I CAN DO THIS MOM!"
Al didn't see much of what was going on behind him for a minute, for he was busy drawing the last of the runes on the circle. He finally managed to turn around when Sid and Ed busied themselves with securing the meat chunk to the ground outside the circle.
Wrath was moving way too fast to see, but Al could see heads on that grotesque creature being twisted off left and right.
The younger Elric then saw him again when Wrath ran back after sending the Homunculus into the cavern wall, standing on the transmutation circle next to the meat chunk. Izumi, for once, looked terrified at being unable to do anything as her own child offered himself as bait.
Gluttony recovered, and charged at Wrath, roaring. The Homunculus boy tensed to flee as the monster opened it's large, gaping mouth over him.
In a flash, he darted out of the way, and the hungry human doll bit down onto the meat chunk.
It clearly wasn't gonna' be picky with what it got into it's stomach, for it started chewing on it, distracted as it tried to tear the meat chuck free from being chained to the stone ground.
"OK, bring Teacher over!" Ed yelled to Sid, who immediately hurried over with Izumi. "Wrath, you too!"
"Wait, Brother!" Al yelled as Ed made to run to the circle, hands poised to clap. "What if this doesn't work?"
"Then it'll backfire one me, and it won't cost anyone else's life."
"EDWARD, ANYDAY NOW!" Izumi yelled. She and Wrath were on the circle, and the Homunculus was managing to start to free the meat chunk.
Al could only watch as Ed raced forward, clapping his hands and slamming them down on the circle.
There was a bright flash as the runes came to life, and Al couldn't see anything else as white obscured his vision.
Ten seconds passed, and then it faded.
Gluttony was gone, as well as the meat.
All that lay in the circle was Izumi, Ed, and Wrath.
"BROTHER!" Al and Sid rushed over as all three stirred. Izumi was the first to sit up, blinking. Her hand traveled to her abdomen.
"I...it's so easy to breath..." She said, and Sid helped her stand up.
Ed managed to sit up next, rubbing his eyes at the previous brightness.
Then there was a gagging sound beside them. Wrath was on his hands and knees, throwing up red stones.
"WRATH!" Izumi crouched by the boy, while the other three hovered worriedly. It was about a minute later did he finally stop vomiting, and took another minute to breathe.
"I-I feel..." He blinked up at his mother. "A-Am I...?"
He clapped his hands, attempting to fuse the ground with his body, but nothing happened. Ed smiled.
"It worked...I can't believe that actually worked."
They all sat in silence for a minute, trying to catch their breath, before Izumi's eyes narrowed at her son.
"Are you crazy?" She yelled at the boy, who squeaked. "That thing could've eaten you alive! Do you want to give Mommy a heart attack?"
"But Mom, it would've-"
"Don't you ever try that again, young man!" She scolded him, before hugging the now human boy tight.
She wouldn't let go of him, even as they headed back to the elevator, laughing.
Five hours later...
"Geez, you make it sound like that thing was trying to eat you alive." Havoc joked as he took a swig of ale, and Ed sighed, sticking more noodles into his mouth. Al chuckled softly.
Somehow, a get-together celebration dinner seemed in order for their achievement in healing Izumi and making Wrath a human. Said boy was now in the small backyard of Havoc's abode, playing with Black Hayate while the adults ate on the porch.
Al listened to everyone converse instead of talking with his mouth full, like Ed was doing at the moment. Mustang's crew, his teacher, her husband, and the Elric brothers. His attention was fixed on the elder brother at the moment, though.
Ed was looking a bit more strained than usual, by standards of the past three weeks. He'd been looking this way ever since they left the underground city.
"Why won't you talk to me, Brother?" Al wanted to scream at him all of a sudden. "What's wrong? Why are you so sad?"
Of course, he would never do that. At least, while other people were around.
"Say Ed, what are you gonna' do after all this is over?" Breda asked him from the other end of the table. Ed blinked at him, and shrugged.
"I dunno'. Definitely getting my ass out of the military."
"We could really use a guy like you though."
"You gonna' go back and marry your girlfriend, then?"
Al felt a jolt run through him at the obvious expression that crossed Ed's face suddenly. Nobody else saw it, but he did.
"What are you hiding? Why won't you share it with me?"
"What girlfriend?" Ed asked, and Al could detect the off note in his tone.
"The mechanic back in Resembool, I'm assuming." Riza mentioned, turning from her conversation with Izumi.
"She's not my girlfriend." Ed deadpanned, turning his mouth back to his noodles.
"Stop hiding it, stop hurting yourself...please Brother..."
"Seriously?" Fuery asked.
"That's boring." Havoc sighed.
"You gonna' keep training with your teacher, then?" Falman added.
"For a while, yeah."
"Al, is something wrong?" He heard Sid ask, but his voice sounded faint to his ears.
"I can't believe how good life's gotten all of a sudden." Fuery remarked.
In plain view, Al saw so many emotions on Ed's face. It hurt...
"Yeah. Mustang's started coming back to work, no more Homuculi, and now Ed's back."
Ed smiled, and the strain in it made Al snap.
"Yeah, life's perfect-"
"DAMMIT, BIG BROTHER! STOP IT!"
Question for you all!
Shigure: Cliffhangers again?
Primi-tan: Yup. Also, have I ever told yo guys how much I love Mustang's crew?
Havoc: HELL YES, WE'VE MADE AN APPEARENCE!
Falman: This calls for a drink!
Roy: I would appreciate it if we had a little bit of romance for yours truly-
Riza: Sir, it would be wise for you to shut up now.
Primi-tan: Anyways, I'm thinking about holding a sort of contest regarding this particular fic. But I won't make it official if nobody wants to participate. There will be first, second, and third place prizes, and I have a friend who's volunteered to draw some of the prizes, IF, big IF, I get enough people willing to participate, and I'm not expecting many. There's a poll up in my profile where you can vote. Let me know what you think, and I hope this chapter was to your satisfaction!
Also, the FST for EdxKisa was moved to my new Livejournal account, where you can also check out an WIP preview of the next chapter and check out other writings I've done that aren't posted here on FFN. The rules of my contest will be posted on my Livejournal IF I get enough people willing to participate.
Peace, love, and fandoms!