Title: Blood Ties (Epilogue)
Author: Jordanna Morgan
Archive Rights: Please request the author's consent.
Rating/Warnings: PG for fantasy violence and blood.
Characters: A whopping big ensemble across two worlds, although the strongest focus is on Ed.
Setting: First anime. Same timeframe as CoS, two years after the end of the series.
Summary: Alternative to Conqueror of Shamballa. An old enemy plunges Ed into the dark secrets of his new world, linked to the alchemy he thought lost to him - while in Amestris, Al faces a life-or-death choice. Will the nightmare Ed is drawn into provide the key to both their fates?
Disclaimer: They belong to Hiromu Arakawa. I'm just playing with them.


London - forty minutes after the opening of the Gate


Roy Mustang of the Hunters felt a strange, indefinable sense of loss.

It wasn't the loss he felt for Riza. She had breathed her last human breath half an hour ago, and now she lay cold and still in his arms, as he sat quietly on the ground outside the empty building that had so recently been a war zone.

Within a matter of hours, Riza would awaken to her new existence as a dhampir - and when she felt her first dark hunger for blood, she would fully understand the horrors she had condemned herself to. Then Roy would grieve with her, and teach her... and he would give her again the lost love that was her reason for making that choice. No fear of harm would stand between them now. In time, when she was ready to bear his terrible memories of the things he had endured, they would even share their lives with one another through their blood.

She was strong enough. Roy knew that - and he knew he would be stronger for her.

It wasn't even the loss of comrades that caused the particular melancholy Roy felt. He had never properly appreciated Francesca and Kain, or even Maes, to whom he owed everything; that realization made his heart ache for their deaths all the more. Yet that sorrow was also different from the wistfulness he felt now, the vague feeling of missing something he had never really had to begin with.

The most badly wounded members of the party, Sig and Vato, had reluctantly gone off to see the doctor who was a faithful ally to the Hunters. In spite of his work as their inside man at the coroner's office, planted there to gain information about any mysterious deaths in London, Nash Tringham was fully qualified as a physician to the living. However ungodly the hour of the night, he and his sons were always prepared to tend the battle wounds of humans, or to fortify weakened dhampirs with the blood of the rabbits the boys raised. He would take excellent care of the two men.

Meanwhile, Jean and Heymans and Councilor Bradley were making a thorough search of the building, but it was only a formality. They all knew the same fact Roy was already sure of - and that fact was what made him feel such a peculiar sense of bereftness.

Edward Elric was gone... and somehow, Roy felt their world was a far poorer place for his absence.

Boots scraped on concrete as Jean and Bradley emerged from the gaping main entryway, and the Councilor shook his head with a shrug. The confirmation that they had found no trace of Fullmetal was hardly necessary.

"I told you," said a quiet voice, a few feet to Roy's left. "You won't find him. He's - home."

Jean Havoc winced at that voice, and moved quickly to the weary feminine figure who sat on a stack of lumber. Kneeling beside her, he looked up into her eyes, his expression filled with distress and bafflement.

"I still can't believe this. It's... really you?"

The young woman nodded slowly. And Roy marveled once again, because the fair, round face that gazed down at Jean was Francesca's...

Yet, impossibly, it was Noa's soul that looked out from behind those large green eyes.

Noa's spirit was occupying Francesca's body. There was no mistaking it. Francesca was dead, slain by Envy; her soul was gone, but somehow, it had been replaced by the soul of the gentle young gypsy. This presence spoke and acted like Noa in every way. More importantly, it felt like her, in a way Roy keenly sensed but couldn't begin to explain. It was Noa, regardless of the form she now inhabited.

"Tell us again," Bradley said gently. "How did this happen?"

With a heavy sigh, Noa stared down at the hands resting in her lap: white skin instead of brown, shorter fingers, broader palms. Roy couldn't imagine what she felt, finding herself in the flesh that had belonged to her best friend.

"My body was the price I paid for opening the Gate." The high, sweet voice was Francesca's, and yet not, its entire character distinctly altered by Noa's soft tone and natural inflections. "I should have died, but somehow... my soul instinctively searched for another vessel to survive in. There must have been just enough lingering energy from the Philosopher's Stone to make it possible. And this body was..."

"Empty," Roy concluded for her solemnly.

Bradley studied the displaced girl with a grimace of sympathy. "And after all of that - you're a dhampir again."

This fact was also evident in Noa's pale and unbreathing new form. Although her true body had been restored to humanity, that mortal life was not transferred to Francesca's undead shell. Whatever the alchemic power was that transplanted Noa's soul, it had healed the previous damage to her new body's heart, and nothing more.

"It's just as well," Noa said faintly. "I'll be stronger for our fight this way."

"But - how long will it last?" Jean swallowed hard, searching the downcast green eyes that now belonged to Noa. "I mean, how long will... will you live like this?"

She turned her face away slightly. "I don't know."

It was an unsettling question. From Edward's memories, Roy knew Hohenheim had spent hundreds of years moving from one body to another. At least in the beginning, before his soul reached its limits, he was able to live out the full years of his stolen hosts - but a single human lifetime was not the immortal existence of a dhampir. Even if Noa's new body was still inhuman in its endurance, there was no way of knowing how long her soul might sustain the flesh that was not its own.

Perhaps it didn't make any difference. With the work they did, no Hunter ever expected to live forever... especially now. If alchemy made them enemies in the eyes of their own kind, all of their futures might be far too brief.

Jean hesitated for a moment. Then he lightly placed his hand on Noa's arm.

"I don't care about this - and I don't care how much time you have. I want to help you, Noa... if you'll let me."

Noa smiled painfully at him. She almost touched his hand; but she abruptly stopped herself, gazing down at her fingers as they closed over the unfamiliar lines of her palm. "Just give me time, Jean."

Roy nodded faintly to himself in satisfaction. He had once pitied Jean's lonely love for a young woman who did not return his feelings, but now he was oddly grateful for it - because this change proved it was Noa's soul Jean cared about after all, and not her body. His devotion would be the best thing for her. Even if it took time for the rest of them to adjust to Noa's plight, Jean would treat her as if she was normal, and that would do much to help her feel normal.

Perhaps one day, Jean might yet win Noa's heart.

A muffled grunt from the entryway of the building interrupted Roy's wistful thoughts. He glanced up to see Heymans trudging out into the moonlight, with a limp and heavy burden in his arms.

Maes.

The Hunters watched in silence as, with a surprising gentleness, Heymans laid Maes' body on the rough ground. Their former leader's staring eyes were still open, and Bradley knelt down reverently to close them.

"I know what Maes was to all of you... and I know what he became was no fault of his own." Bradley looked up at each of the Hunters in turn. "The way his life ended will not be remembered, I promise you. His loss will be recorded as an honorable death in battle. The pain he suffered will detract nothing from the memory of his greatness as a leader... and a friend."

With a stifled sob, Noa looked away.

"The question is whether we still have a Council to report to," Roy said grimly. "What happens next? What will we do with this alchemy now - if other Hunters decide it makes us too dangerous?"

"We go on with the work each of us vowed to do. Even if those who fear alchemy drive us deeper underground, we keep hunting vampires - and this time we destroy them, one by one, for as long as it takes." Bradley cast a kind glance toward Noa. "Edward gave us more than alchemy. For the first time, he brought us hope. If he succeeds in teaching his world the truth, and if we do our part faithfully here... perhaps someday, there will be no more vampires."

"But there'd still be us," Jean muttered darkly.

Bradley sobered. "That's true. Even if this world could be rid of vampires, there would still be dhampirs who turn rogue. Not one of our kind will ever cease to be a potential danger to the mortal world. Some innocent souls will continue to break, just as Maes did... and some will choose to do harm. It may be that one day, we will be the only monsters who remain." He breathed a deep sigh. "I don't know what might happen then... or whether we could find the courage to destroy our own race for the good of mankind. Only time will answer that."

"Time..." Noa murmured, with a sad smile. She wiped her pale new cheeks with the back of her hand, and slowly stood up.

"I'm going to keep fighting, no matter how much time I have. Ed won't fail us - and we can't fail him. It's up to us now to protect our world with the power he gave us, and to make sure it's never used for harm. No matter what stands in our way, we have to do what we know is right... the same way he did for us."

Her eyes brightened, and there was something familiar about her hard, determined smile.

"It's time to move forward."


2011 Jordanna Morgan