Disclaimer: NCIS belongs to Bellasario, et al. Fullmetal Alchemist belongs to Arikawa Hiromu.
Summary: Al looked down at his own body and shivered. "I never knew that. Ed...I don't know what he knows. Mom was normal, but Dad...I don't know if we're human and can die. I don't know anything anymore."
Notes: I came up with this last November right at the start of NaNoWriMo and didn't want to let go of it. I don't think I'm ready for that but I can still attempt this, regardless. Also, a Cracked article inspired part of the dialogue between Gibbs, Roy, and Mäes. The lyrics belong to Blind Willie McTell, who scares me.
Universes: NCIS, original recipe (it feels so weird to say that...), early season two and Fullmetal Alchemist: The Conqueror of Shamballa.
Part VII: Caretaker
"Because even if I'd lived for a thousand lifetimes, I never could do enough to earn the gift of my children: you and Al." - Hohenheim of Light to Edward Elric
Gibbs watched Gracia climb back into the van and drive off, having given her his base and PX passes beforehand and making a mental note to get more for Gracia and Al. Ed was eighteen and ineligible and Elysia was only six and didn't require her own yet. But what to do in the meantime, since Ed was still out cold and Al hadn't raised any alarms...
You know you can't use bullets anymore, right? Roy's voice was echoing through his head again and immediately Gibbs rolled his eyes. "I don't have any of your ignition cloth gloves. I don't smoke like Havoc did and I'm not about to start. And I have to use bullets, jackass. What would you expect, a slingshot?"
Mäes howled with laughter and Roy rolled his eyes at a joke Gibbs suddenly understood. "You may be a bad shot, but I could kill your ass."
I am not a bad shot, Roy objected flatly and Gibbs smirked, "Aw, someone's buttons are kind of easy to push."
Gibbs could feel Roy restraining himself and smiled even more widely. "An idea, you egotistical ass. You might try it some time. They can be fun."
Roy was fuming, I'm composing a song, Gibbs. It's called, 'If I Had a Body - The Pieces I Would Cut Yours Into'.
Gibbs snorted, "My dad used to play an old down and dirty blues song something like that. It was by a guy called Blind Willie McTell. Sociopathy. Something you two obviously have in common."
'Long, Deep, Short, and Wide', huh? Sounds like someone had the perfect idea when it came to you.
Gibbs rolled his eyes, "I was six, moron. My biggest crime was stealing cookies."
Details, details. It fits n - Okay, Mäes broke up their mental I-Could-Kill-You-Better-a-Thon. Everyone here knows we have better things to be doing than threatening one another with a completely pointless and impossible death. Then Mäes said in a much lower voice, You psychos scare me.
Gibbs snorted but Mäes wasn't finished, Also, Gibbs. Jackson's taste in music was absolutely nasty. I'm just glad Elysia's never heard any of that trash.
"You think that's bad. You should have heard Lucille Bogan and Skip James." There was a pause and then both Roy and Mäes yelled in affront. Gibbs clapped his hands over his ears, but it did nothing. "Will you two shut up? It's called the old down dirty blues for a reason!"
"Your team - that Tony kid, he said something about brain bleach once? GIVE!" Gibbs rolled his eyes and Mäes's mouth dropped open.
"Oh, quit whining."
If you pervert my daughter, Gibbs, I'll -
"I wouldn't pervert our daughter anymore than my father perverted me, which is actually very little in case you hadn't noticed yet. Aside from that music, my dad wasn't the lech you think he is."
He goes through six girlfriends in half a year!
Gibbs raised his hands and shrugged, "Honestly, what is it with you people. Like I told my team - older, not dead."
He's your father! That doesn't bother you?
Gibbs sighed, "Now I have something better to do than quibble with you, Hughes, about my eighty-year-old father's sex life. Like you insist, it's none of my business. My business is running my team and household. And, with that, I'm going to check on Al and Ed and then alter all of my weapons since I can now burn people with my bullets.
"Because, you know, my wife didn't have enough reasons to complain about my job."
You're belittling alchemy. Gibbs narrowed his eyes at Roy's words and then leaned against the kitchen door jamb. "I'm not, actually. If you knew me, you would know that."
That's the thing, Jethro, Roy said calmly, I do know you. And you have a talent for joking very seriously. I distinctly recall you offering a known criminal the names of all your ex-wives, as well as their addresses? You intended to have them hidden away should he have attempted to make good on the threat, but if he had, it wouldn't have bothered you terribly.
"You get beamed by a nine-iron or a baseball bat and then ask me what bothers you. I do recall, myself, a whole platoon who'd happily see your head in the latrine for stealing their girlfriends. I believe they made their irritation with you quite apparent during your miniature war with Fullmetal, there." Roy could only roll his eyes. "Say nothing of poor Havoc. Have you no shame, Mustang?"
Shut up, Gibbs.
Gibbs resisted the urge to smirk at having won against not one but two of the more tangent ghosts in his head and, without stopping to think that he may be just as insane as his team assumed, he began walking to Ed and Al's bedroom, stopping, of course, to lay a blanket over Elysia and give her a kiss on the forehead, for once humoring Hughes' gushing about her because he felt the same way.
After a few moments staring at her, Gibbs turned on his heel and didn't stop again until he was standing in Ed and Al's doorway.
Al was sitting in the far overlarge t-shirt Gibbs had given him, his hair wet and rather smelling a lot better.
Gibbs nodded his approval. "Good work, kiddo." Al tried to look pleased but, in the end, could only shrug morosely as he watched Ed shift in discomfiture on the other bed, his fever finally broken, his entire body shivering badly as he tried to get warm again.
Gibbs sighed, "The Tylenol's working, Al. Just give it time. If you feel so useless, I can help you try to give him more water."
But Al only shook his head, blinking as tears fell from his eyes, "Thank you, no, sir - ah, Gibbs. That's...I know Brother's going to get better. I...can tell. It's..." Al looked up at Gibbs and the latter was surprised to see just how much he'd been crying.
"How many people died? In...in the War?"
Gibbs froze and his mind flashed back to the old soldier who'd been convinced he'd murdered his best friend. Gibbs sighed, frowning as he walked over and sat down on the now properly made bed. Al had scarcely made a dent in the mattress with his own weight, but the springs groaned as Gibbs sat down.
He knew it would be useless to lie to Al, or to Ed, once he was conscious. They'd had their hands in the thick of everything around them for seven years. He would not lie to either of them.
"The actual count of entire war dead is...well, it's known as the most devastating war in modern history, if not all. But I assume you're meaning those Hitler was after."
Al nodded, wiping his eyes again to no avail.
Gibbs exhaled gustily, "Anywhere from five and a half to six million Jews and around the same number, possibly more, of many, many other social and ethnic groups."
Al's eyes widened in horror and Gibbs quickly grabbed him in a hug as he started to sob as quietly as he could. Still, Gibbs knew he had to continue.
"The numbers of soldiers dead, of civilian bystanders...those numbers vary. But...hundreds of millions. Sieges, attacks, counterattacks, blockades...the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki...they all took their toll."
Al's tears were hot on Gibbs' shoulder and he pressed his face into Al's now clean hair, giving him a kiss on the top of his head.
"Just remember, Alphonse. Nobody let that stop them. Everyone got on with their lives afterward, those who survived. We had what's called a 'baby boom' afterward. Folks losing their minds that everything was okay again and tons of children were born as a result."
Al shifted backward and blinked, staring into Gibbs' eyes as best as he could through what had to sting. "You were one of them," Al said and Gibbs winced and rolled his eyes.
"Well, if things had gone a bit differently, yeah, I would have been. My dad was pleased as punch to be back home with my mom and nine or so months later, there I was. Wrong war, though. Korean War, not World War II. I was born in 1958."
Al fought back a giggle and then stilled. "You called him 'Jack'. Like Ed...he called our dad 'Hohenheim of Light' instead of..."
"'Dad'." Gibbs sighed again, "My dad and I don't have the best...well, I didn't leave on the best of terms with him. It wasn't him. It was me. My mother died when I was about your age. To say I was pissed afterward was an understatement. I didn't get over it for a long time. I...I knew it wasn't his fault, or anybody's fault. That's what made me so angry. And now..."
Gibbs frowned. "Well, I know he'd still be happy to see me, but I wouldn't know the first thing to say to him, really. My 'jerk' button is pretty automatic with him by now. I'm an ass to him."
Al frowned, himself, glaring at Ed's still frame. "When Dad came back, the first thing Ed did was run up, kick him in the face and ask him what he thought he was doing flirting. Then he said, um - 'You're gone for over ten years and I come home to that?' And then he cursed Dad and called him, 'old man'."
Gibbs held in his sudden urge to laugh with difficulty. "Oh, man, he sounds like me. I could give my dad hell about his girlfriends if I cared more. But..." Gibbs shrugged. "My mom's been gone a long time. He was...it was healthy of him to move on."
Gibbs shrugged, "His name is Jackson, though. Jackson Gibbs, hence 'Jack', in case you were wondering. Your dad really named 'Hohenheim of...'" Gibbs, himself, stilled this time as more of Roy's memories rolled over him. "He was over four centuries old? And...from Xerxes, which no longer exists?"
Al nodded, fiddling with the hem of the t-shirt he wore. "I...I found one of his journals once - it was one of the only ones that didn't have anything to do with alchemy. It said his name was Number 23 and that he'd been a slave...as a human."
Gibbs frowned, "As a human?"
Al nodded again, "A lot of it was written in Xerxian. I can't read that and neither can Ed. When I was in the Gate...I got a lot of information I hadn't before. Different from what Ed got. Dad wasn't human anymore because he did something to try and stop Dante from being able to use the Philosopher's Stone they had at the time for her own use...he told us, 'I thought if I'd just stayed in hiding she'd finally fade away, but I had to do something the moment she set her eyes on you'.
"He didn't want us to end up like...like our half-brother. Dad tried to bring him back to life after he died of mercury poisoning. He failed, of course. Envy was the result. He looked a lot like Dad and kind of like Ed when we finally saw his real face.
"But the point is, after that, I think Dad became disillusioned. He told...when we went through the Gate this last time, I received his memories of all the time and things he did while he was away from us. Even the time he spent here - ah, in Germany with Ed. He took the Stone they had at the time and used alchemy to place it within himself."
Al looked down at his own body and shivered. "I never knew that. Ed...I don't know what he knows. Mom was normal, but Dad...I don't know if we're human and can die. I don't know anything anymore."
Al began crying again and Gibbs immediately wrapped his arms around Al again, this time rocking him from side to side, making gentle shushing noises.
Al slowly pushed himself away from Gibbs and forced himself to continue, "H-he said...he said his soul was rotting and his body was dying because it - his soul, the Stone didn't have the energy to maintain a body anymore.
"I...his Philosopher's Stone was getting used up. Every time he did alchemy, it got smaller and smaller. Like when I was the Stone. I could tell. Dante tried to use me and Shou Tucker tried to use me - and every time they did, my armor wore away - big holes where my...my soul had been!"
Al clapped his hand over his mouth as the sobs kept coming, his terror mounting as everything he hadn't let himself feel since he'd become the Stone came crashing down on him. He couldn't see, he couldn't breathe.
Gibbs took Al back into his arms, running his hands over Al's hair and rubbing circles in his back as his feelings rode themselves out. Al was squirming now, gasping for breath as he apparently tried to reach behind himself.
"What's up?" Gibbs asked as calmly as he could.
"My blood seal," Al whimpered, wiggling even harder. "I need to see my blood seal!"
Gibbs blinked, frowning, "Al - you're in a - well, you're not in your armor anymore. Why would you - "
But Al shoved himself out of Gibbs' arms and took off running. Gibbs followed quickly, finding Al in the bathroom, having ripped the shirt off and standing once again on the stool in front of the sink that Elysia had once used to brush her teeth.
He was staring, transfixed, at his bare back and it was only seconds before Gibbs could see exactly why. On Al's back, near his neck, was the pale impression of a transmutation circle. A wound carved into his skin long ago, now healed into a large keloid and clearly visible.
"Oh, my God," Gibbs heard himself mutter, at a loss for what to say for the first time in years.
Al turned to face him, his hands white from gripping the sink so hard, his eyes wide and frightened. Gibbs determinedly frowned and walked slowly over to Al before scooping the boy back up into his arms. He didn't speak again until they were back in Ed and Al's bedroom, seated once more on Al's bed, this time with Al's arms wrapped around his legs as he struggled not to cry again.
Gibbs decided to let him make his own choice regarding his emotions, instead simply asking, "What did your dad tell you about the Gate?"
Al flinched but then a sense of focus seemed to come over him. "He said...basically, when we give something up, we get something in return and it might not be what we wanted or expected, but it's there. I - Ed wanted my body back but I wanted his arm and leg that Wrath took. That was all I was trying for. All we were trying for - "
Al bit his lip, remembering when the Gate opened and ripped Ed's arm and leg off of Wrath and how the young homunculus - Teacher's son - screamed and cried. Dante had taunted him but Envy's only concern had been that the Gate had remained later on. And then Ed had come out of it.
"We only wanted to get things back the way they were - ourselves. We knew we couldn't Mom back and we weren't stupid enough to try again. I used the rest of my body to give Ed his life back and fix his. But then Ed used his whole body to give me mine. I...I'm confused. I lost my memory as a result of Ed's transmutation and then got them back when we came back to this side...but right before - "
Al straightened, his eyes wide as he turned and stared at Gibbs again. "Right before - when we were fighting Eckard, I attached parts of my soul to a whole bunch of the suits of armor I think my dad developed on this side of the Gate...But...the armor down in the morgue...Mrs. H - Gibbs and Elysia came out of it. The armor I transmuted to come back with Ed...it wasn't that one. It was designed like my old armor.
"The one in Ducky's morgue was one of the ones the Thule Society designed, I think. So...so does that mean that somehow my old - my first armor, since it became my soul, has been inside me all this time and we...am I my first armor? My blood seal was in the back of it, like this scar is on my back now."
Al's eyes were wider than ever and he stared at Gibbs, wishing for an answer Gibbs didn't know how to give. Gibbs frowned at himself, making fists on his knees.
"I don't know. I'd give almost anything to answer your question, Al, but I honestly don't know." Gibbs looked over at where Ed had finally stopped shivering and sweating, now still under the sheet he'd been given by Al at some point.
"Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure your brother's the only person who can answer that for you since he's the one you've gone through all of this with."
"Or Elysia," Al said softly and Gibbs gave him a look. Al elaborated, not wanting to get smacked for anything. "She spent even more time in the Gate than I did. I don't know what she knows anymore than I do what Brother does. All three of us need to talk, but they're both asleep."
Gibbs wanted to object, saying Elysia was only six - what could she possibly tell them, but he knew better. Frowning bitterly at not knowing his little girl at all anymore, he nodded and finally decided to carry out his earlier plan, if only to relieve his frustration.
Frowning deeply, Gibbs concentrated on unloading his gun and setting the clip far away from either himself or Al, and then pulled out his switchblade and flicked it open, not speaking for the next half an hour as he painstakingly carved Roy's transmutation circle into the pommel on both sides.
His expression flat and angry, Gibbs brushed the shavings onto his shirt and got up to dump them into the trash can. Dropping himself back down onto the bed, he meticulously dissembled, cleaned, and reloaded the gun, ignoring the flashes in his head of Roy watching Riza do the same a thousand times or more.
Placing it carefully back into his holster, Gibbs turned and blinked at Al, who had gathered himself at the head of his bed, his hazel eyes wide in fear.
Kicking himself hard inside, Gibbs raised both his hands and pointedly softened his voice, "I'm not angry with you. Circumstances beyond my control. I'll let you know I don't do well with those. I'm sure you'll hear Gracia chastise me about my lack of patience, my dad did the same when I was a kid. I know I leave people walking on eggshells around me and..."
What could Gibbs do, lie? Half the time, it was exactly what he wanted. More than half, actually. "Just know, I'll never want anything but for you and Ed to be safe. To keep you safe. And for that to be my job."
Al forced himself to relax, remembering how at ease both Mrs. Gibbs and Elysia were with Gibbs. He knew. And so he nodded.