Author: Jordanna Morgan
Archive Rights: Please request the author's consent.
Rating/Warnings: PG for character death and just plain creepiness.
Characters: Al, the Curtises, Winry, Wrath, Ed.
Setting: First anime. A divergence from the fight with Wrath on Yock Island in Episode 32.
Summary: In which the Elrics' battle with Wrath leads to darker, more life-changing results.
Disclaimer: They belong to Hiromu Arakawa. I'm just playing with them.
Notes: Another creepy little byway of the "Things That Never Happened" road. In fact, this one was quickly and spontaneously written over a weekend (and under a marked lack of sleep). I seriously disturbed myself with this concept - but once it wormed its way into my brain, I had to write it. Worse yet, I actually feel an inclination to write a sequel.
Alphonse felt as if he saw it all in an agonizing, helpless slow-motion.
In reality, by the time that panicked cry ceased to resonate within Al's armor, it was already over. In the heat of their combat, Wrath whipped an inhuman tentacle around Edward's neck, wrenching him forward. At the same time, the homunculus-child thrust out with a sharp shaft of bone he had transmuted through the flesh of his stolen arm - Ed's arm. There was a sudden horrific squelch and a strangely soft choked sound from Ed...
Winry screamed as Ed's body slowly slid off of the bone blade, but Brother was silent as he fell.
Red stains spread around him, soaking into the ground. Red trickled over his lips as his body twitched and his eyelashes fluttered. Golden eyes struggled to focus, to find something familiar to anchor his fading soul.
A sob ripped itself from Izumi's lungs as she lurched forward; but an all-consuming horror paralyzed Al, as if his armor had turned to solid stone.
Wrath stood equally frozen. He looked at Ed, looked at the scarlet streaks of blood on his bone blade - a weapon he had fashioned with what was once a part of Ed's own body. The eyes of the monster-child grew wide, and he began trembling, whimpering like a frightened animal. His head shook slowly from side to side in terrified denial.
Almost as if, for the first time, he had realized what death really meant.
Ed stared up into Teacher's eyes as she knelt over him. His lips moved as if to speak, his chest heaving slightly as his lungs struggled to take in air instead of blood, but no words came.
Move, something screamed at Al within the cold emptiness of his steel shell. Save Brother.
But he couldn't move... and in his soul, he knew he couldn't save his brother.
It was Wrath who screamed then, a high, wild sound of horror and despair. With something like desperation in his eyes, he slapped his right hand to his left foot, joining a circle by means of those mortal limbs that were not his own. He staggered forward a step, and his hands reached out to Ed and Izumi.
Pushed instantly past the brink by that threatening act, Al flung himself forward with a bellow of rage he would never have believed he could utter. In that moment, he knew only the need to stop Wrath before the homunculus did even more harm, to Teacher as well as Ed.
Once more he was too late... and he could only watch as Wrath's hands fell upon Brother and Teacher, enveloping the three of them in a blaze of burning light.
When the light faded, Izumi lay on the ground, her body wracked with convulsions. Close by her, Wrath lay dead - incredibly, impossibly, the undying artificial life within him obliterated. His own inhuman flesh had petrified, and in the moments before it crumbled away completely, there could be seen only severed stumps in place of the human arm and leg he had taken from Edward long ago.
Brother was simply gone.
For the second time in two days, Al and Winry sat despondently in a hospital room, as Izumi's doctor bent over the unconscious woman. Sig was also present, standing silent beside his wife's bed with her hand clasped in his.
"I don't understand this." The doctor turned to pick up the report that detailed Izumi's test results, shaking his head at the paper for the tenth time. "It's medically impossible. All of the internal organs Mrs. Curtis has been missing for years - they're just - there again. It's nothing short of a miracle!"
Al's leather fists clenched at his sides, and he looked away.
The night before, after he had helped Winry attend to Izumi, they searched every inch of Yock Island. Then they searched it again, and again. At last Winry broke down in tears of hopelessness, letting Mason take her away, but Al kept searching.
He would broaden his search now, and never cease until the day his armor rusted into dust.
For all his years spent within nerveless steel, he had never imagined what unfeeling numbness could really be until now, when it claimed his very soul. There was nothing left inside him. The armor had become truly empty... because deep down, he already knew he would not find his brother.
Wrath had transmuted himself. That much was clear, for they had already seen him commit such acts that were impossible for humans. The only explanation for Teacher's healing was that Wrath used his own vast energy - and the raw material of Ed's human flesh - to restore the organs his would-be mother had lost in creating him.
Al would never understand what remorse had driven the homunculus to it... or why he could not, or would not, use that powerful sacrifice to spare Brother's life. It was his act of murdering Ed that seemingly aroused such horror in him. Instead of righting that wrong, why had he only brought healing to Izumi instead?
The younger Elric tried to believe it was because Ed's life had slipped too far, had been beyond saving in that moment, even with the power Wrath exerted. Yet in spite of that willful insistence, Al couldn't bring himself to look at Izumi. The thought that the new organs inside her may have been formed from the substance of Ed's being was too monstrous to face.
At the edge of his vision, he saw Winry's hand come to rest on his vambrace. The touch prompted him to move for the first time in many hours, turning to look at the girl who sat beside him. Her head hung down, her gaze downcast, but he didn't need to see her face to know tears were streaming from her eyes.
Tears of mourning. More than he was capable of now, in body or in soul.
That soft tremor in her voice was too much, and Al suddenly needed to escape. He pushed away from her, rising quickly. For only a moment he hesitated, almost glancing at Teacher, but not quite; then he turned and moved toward the door.
Winry's voice cried out his name again behind him, but he did not answer. There was nothing left to say, and nothing to feel.
There was nothing now but the search - even if it was as endless and hollow as his entire existence had become.
Afterward, Al could never fully account for the months that followed, lost in a haze of emptiness and futility. There was not even any rational starting point in the search for a brother he knew was dead; and so he drifted, numbly searching every face that passed by him, finding nothing that could ever mean anything to him again.
He was fairly sure madness possessed him - but his own soul was too dead to express even that.
More than seven months passed before he found himself on the doorstep of the Curtis home again. He didn't know why he had come back, or even remember any conscious decision to do so, but somehow he was simply there. Perhaps there was still some part of his soul that was not too dead to care, longing to know those who shared the horrific memory of that night had been able to bear their own grief.
To his surprise, it was Winry Rockbell who opened the door to his knock.
"Al..." she whispered, staring up at him with brimming eyes, and he felt a faint twinge of guilt. She and the Curtises, he realized then, must have spent all that time wondering whether he was dead or alive... as if there was any longer a difference between the two.
For a moment she seemed to struggle with an urge to throw her arms around his hard steel bulk, but at last she resisted the impulse, and simply stepped back from the door. "Come in."
A sudden flicker of reluctance passed through Al, but now that he was here, he knew there was no turning back. He slowly followed Winry into the house.
"I didn't expect to see you here," he said quietly.
"I'm staying here for a while to help Izumi." Winry hesitated. "Al, she's..."
At that moment, Izumi appeared in the doorway leading from the kitchen. She paled slightly as she saw Al; and as his gaze passed over the new weight her once-slim figure carried, he understood exactly what Winry had been about to tell him.
Izumi was pregnant.
Even after Al's soul had felt so deadened to emotion, it was all he could do not to flinch back in surprise... and faint repugnance. Clearly Izumi and Sig had wasted no time putting to use Wrath's gift, the new womb Teacher possessed at the cost of -
"Al." Izumi's voice quivered, and she gripped the frame of the doorway discreetly with one hand, as if to steady herself. "Al, I'm... so glad you came back."
Beneath his teacher's shaken voice, he found himself completely unable to read whether her words were sincere or forced. All he did know was that he was not glad. He should never have returned, because he desperately wished he might never have seen and known this at all.
"Congratulations," he said, and tried very hard to sound sincere himself. Not resentful. Not wretchedly bitter.
Once again, the overwhelming need for escape came over him. Without another word, he turned a little too abruptly, and took one step toward the door.
"Wait, Al." Izumi's footsteps came after him. "...I want you to understand."
With great reluctance, Al turned back. Nothing could make him feel any better about this, but he knew he had to let her speak.
"Listen to me, Al. This child I'm carrying. It's..." Izumi faltered, swallowed hard, and took a deep, shuddering breath, as her hand came to rest on the telling bulge of her abdomen.
"It was conceived long before Sig and I had even considered trying."
Through the remaining weeks of Izumi's pregnancy, Al remained at the Curtis household.
Just to be in Izumi's presence then was an unspeakable silent torture; yet he was compelled to stay, to see this monstrous thing through to the end. A part of him was terrified of what he might do when that end came, but even so, he was unable to tear himself away.
It was all so clear to him now.
Wrath had despised the unnatural life he was given, and rightly so. It was the life of a monster, an inhuman freak of alchemy. Now Al felt sure it was really human life the homunculus-child had wanted, and he found his way to gain it... using Brother's flesh and Teacher's womb. With his ability to transmute himself, even such a horror as that was far from unthinkable.
The thing Izumi carried inside her, had unquestionably been carrying since the very night when they saw Wrath's body crumble into dust - surely it was Wrath. A monster even still, waiting to be reborn in a new body formed from Ed's stolen human flesh.
Al said nothing of this to the Curtises or Winry. He didn't dare. Even when Wrath tried to kill her, Izumi had protected the homunculus replica of her dead firstborn. How much more so now, if he had returned himself to her new womb, and become the creature that was nestled under her heartbeat?
Besides, none of this was really Teacher's fault. Al could never have hurt her to reach the thing growing inside her.
After it was born, however...
Perhaps the thoughts he was entertaining made him a monster himself, but he couldn't bring himself to care. Al could not allow Wrath to have the life and love he took from Ed - nor to grow again into the evil he had been, even in a mere mortal body. Above all, Brother's murder must be avenged, and it made no difference that the murderer should have tried to escape into the innocence of an unborn child.
So Alphonse held his silence, and waited.
On the night Izumi went into labor, a violent thunderstorm descended upon Dublith. As the doctor and Sig tended to her in the bedroom, Al sat hunched in the living room and listened blackly to the rain and thunder, punctuated by Teacher's cries of pain. The thought of her suffering to give new life to the monster inside her enraged him.
He also studied the faces of Winry and Mason, who sat anxiously with him. There was no joy in their expressions, and he wondered if they had come to the same conclusion as he. He wondered if their judgments would be the same as his - but in the end, that didn't really matter. He knew what he had to do, and if it was him they chose to judge afterward, they could do with him what they wished.
It was nearing midnight when Izumi's pains came to their peak... and finally, they heard the soft keening of a child's first cry.
A shudder passed through Al's armor. It was done; the thing had entered the world once more, and now perhaps they would all know the truth. He watched Mason pat Winry's shoulders as she put her head down and wept, but he still could not tell whether they were tears of gladness or fear.
The small cries from the bedroom gradually tapered off as the newborn creature was soothed. At length the doctor came out, looking pleased with his accomplishment of the successful delivery. He smiled broadly at the three who waited in the living room.
"Mrs. Curtis has herself another miracle - a beautiful baby boy," he announced cheerfully. "They're both in fine health. At this point, I'd say we have nothing at all to worry about for either of them."
Al winced at the unintended cruelty of the words. Nothing to worry about...
After several more minutes, the doctor took his leave, rushing out into the rain to head for home and a sound sleep of satisfaction. From the bedroom, all was quiet for a little while longer; and then Sig emerged. Instead of the giddiness of a proud new father, he looked thoughtful and somber - a fact Al took sharp notice of.
Sig crossed the room and stopped directly in front of Al. Fixing him with inscrutable eyes, he beckoned in a way that excluded both Winry and Mason. "Come here, boy."
If Al had literally possessed a heart, its beat would have quickened. Had Izumi and Sig already seen the proof of what the child really was? Did they know the terrible intent Al had been nurturing in his soul for these past weeks?
Suppressing a quiver, he rose and followed Sig to the bedroom.
Izumi sat up against the pillows in bed, cradling a small blanket-wrapped bundle. Her hair was disheveled, her brow sweat-dampened and her cheeks wet with tears, but her face was shining with an exhausted joy. As Al came into the room, she looked up at him - and her eyes filled with an expression he had no words to describe. It frightened him in the way only Teacher could, yet there was something gentle in it that gave him pause in a very different way.
"Look at him, Al."
Now that the moment had arrived, Al felt a terror of what might happen next. What would he see in the child Izumi held? An ordinary baby with a mix of Izumi and Sig's features... or a homunculus with an Ouroboros mark and Wrath's demonic little face? Even if it did look normal, how could he be sure it wasn't Wrath in human flesh? Could he bear to wait, to watch it grow and try to discern who or what it really was, or would this torment inside him compel him to seize it from her arms and - ?
That note of sternness in Teacher's voice was all too familiar. He could delay no further.
Wishing he could take a deep breath to bolster nerves he didn't physically have, Al slowly stepped forward. This time he could not still a faint tremor in his steel as he leaned down beside the bed. He struggled with himself until, in agonized reluctance, his gaze finally fell to the offspring in Izumi's arms.
In a single moment, he felt his dead soul reawaken to life, as a soft gasp echoed beneath his chestplate.
By varying degrees, a certain darkness of coloring was a trait of the Curtis family - but the child Izumi had borne was the fair, glowing golden of the sun. Wisps of soft gold hair covered his head, and vibrant gold eyes gazed up fearlessly at Al's menacing metal features.
Al knew those eyes, and that face, and most of all the fire-bright soul he could feel touching his own... and now, it was he who knew the truth.
Wrath's sacrifice did not extend to Izumi alone, after all. It was only that the remorseful homunculus-child truly couldn't restore Edward's life as it once was - so he had done the best he could for them both.
Tenderly Al reached down to the miracle Izumi held, and somewhere deep in his soul, tears of joy fell as he watched a tiny hand grip his rough leather fingers.
"Welcome back, Brother."
2011 Jordanna Morgan