Flowers of Antimony

by Lady Norbert

A/N: And here we are. Thank you so much for riding out this story with me! Please to be leaving a contribution in the little box at the bottom of the page, if you would be so good, and I shall be supremely content. I'm happy to have been able to make so many people smile!

Epilogue: Quintessence

Quintessence: "Pure essence," also called ether, of which alchemists believed heavenly bodies were composed. It was regarded as the fifth element and said to permeate all things. Its extraction was one of the chief goals of alchemy.

Ed has now been wearing the thick wedding band on his left hand for over a year.

He and Winry get letters from their faraway friends; the mailman comes to their house at least once or twice a week with envelopes from all over Amestris and beyond, and Ed's gotten better about answering them punctually. Truthfully, some of them are better correspondents than he would have expected. Sometimes there are photographs to add to Winry's collage.

Havoc and Breda have been reassigned to the Fuhrer's personal detail. Havoc likes it because there's less paperwork. Breda likes it because state lunches have fantastic leftovers. Havoc and Rebecca are still a thing, to use his terminology, and it's possibly getting serious. At least, as serious as Havoc gets.

Fuery has managed to transfer back to Central. He and Sheska are dating - well, Ed supposes it counts as dating. They talk about books a lot, especially books about communications equipment. Then again, Ed's not really in a position to criticize someone else's dating style, all things considered. If it works for them, that's all that matters.

Falman has returned to the north, and to the wife and son who waited for him there. He is expecting his second child in the fall. General Armstrong has apparently 'volunteered' to be the new baby's godmother, and Falman is honestly not sure whether he should be flattered, proud, or disturbed. Ed votes for all three.

Her brother, meanwhile, has transferred his unit to the Aerugosian border. Ever since the five-country incident, both Aerugo and Creta have expressed a renewed interest in furthering the peace talks with Amestris; their governments were quick to denounce the actions of their countrymen in the skirmish, and even Drachma seems more amenable to proper peace talks. So Major Armstrong is there, doing what he can to help, because "the art of diplomacy has been handed down through the Armstrong line for generations!" Maria Ross and Denny Brosh are still with him. There's some hint of them being or becoming more than friends, and Ed has to concede he finds it unnervingly easy to picture. Well, they're both nice people.

Every time a letter arrives bearing an Ishvalan return address, he congratulates himself yet again for what he calls "the wrench gambit." He figures that name is appropriate for the trap that caught General Chess Fiend. Mustang and Hawkeye's wedding was delayed by one setback after another, but it's finally taken place and he's kind of sorry he missed it; they did send a nice picture though, and he didn't draw on this one. They're back in Ishval now, still trying to atone for sins that aren't entirely their own, and Ed admits - privately - that it's about time they allow themselves to be happy while they do it. They've earned that much at least. And everybody who's ever looked at them knows that the only way either one of them can ever be happy is if they're together. It's a condition he understands pretty well, really.

The clan of Ling and May's traitorous half-brother has been banished from Xing. The imperial wedding took place just a few weeks ago, and Ed wonders what Fu would think of his granddaughter being crowned Empress. He really wanted to crash the party, to pay Ling back for crashing his, but he missed it for the same reason he missed Mustang and Hawkeye's - he didn't want to leave Winry and she's in no condition to travel. So he settles for reading Al's account of the whole thing. He was there, naturally, as the formal escort of sixteen-year-old Princess May Chang, and there's a rumor going around Xing that their betrothal will probably be announced soon. Al downplays this in his letters, of course, preferring to focus on the alkahestry work they're doing together and how close they are to finding a way to reverse the chimera condition for Jerso and Zampano.

For his own part, Ed is writing a book, or maybe a series of books, to help regular people understand alchemy better. Having been both an alchemist and not an alchemist, he thinks he may be uniquely qualified to put the study into terms most anyone can grasp. And, as Winry says, it gives him something to do while he waits around for his son to be born. (The baby is a boy, Granny Pinako is sure of it.)

Quintessence, he writes, is the purest form of any substance. It may be regarded as the soul of matter, and its extraction is among alchemy's most fundamental goals. It is the root of the word 'quintessential,' referring to that which is found at the very heart of something.

It's not just an alchemical term, either, he thinks. As he stands in the hall and looks at the photo collage, he remembers what he said to the Truth - that even without alchemy, he will always be okay because he has these people around him. That is why the Truth said he had the right answer. Alchemists want to extract the quintessence from things? He did just the opposite - when he added all these people to his life, he added quintessence.

He has a fullmetal heart.

Quintessence is what makes it beat.