To Settle a Debt
Total blank whiteness expanded outward around him, marred only by the Gate and the small figure that materialized, sitting before him.
"Have you come for your brother, Mr. Al-che-mist?" a thousand voices asked, he could hear his own among them, "But how are you going to pull a whole person out? What is the payment? Will you offer up your own body?"
Edward's stone face betrayed nothing as he walked past the figure, looking up at the Gate. A smile spread across his face.
"This is my payment. This huge thing."
"The Gate of Truth exists within everyone. That is how everyone can use alchemy. Will you degrade yourself to an ordinary person, unable to do alchemy?" The thousand voices rang in the emptiness, echoing with its mocking tone.
"There is nothing degrading about it. I have always been an ordinary person," he closed his eyes for a moment, "A small person unable to save even a single girl who'd been turned into a chimera."
He opened his eyes again, looking back at the Gate.
"Since seeing the Truth, or whatever I have relied on Alchemy so much, and made many mistakes," Edward said, "I have been its puppet."
"Will you be alright, without this?" The Truth asked.
He didn't know, really. As foolish as the damned thing had made him, Alchemy was his passion. The thought of being cut from it... but he would have his brother, and that was all that mattered. It was his fault for everything that had happened, and he must pay his dues. He had people he could count on (bastard fathers and Colonels included); he didn't need anything more. Edward turned his head, grinning at Truth.
"Even without Alchemy, I still have my friends."
The being grinned.
"That is the correct answer, Mr. Al-che-mist," Truth laughed, "You have beaten Truth. Take it all."
Edward turned back to the Gate.
"Wait," Weakness permeated the short, simple word, and also determination, "Brother."
"Oh? Little brother seems to have found his way to your soul through your connection," Truth grinned, "There was no need, your brother was just coming to get you."
"Al!" Edward looked back and saw the weak figure of his brother, trying to prop himself up on his own Gate, "Al, just wait one second, don't-"
"You're so stupid." Al looked up, glaring at his brother.
Utter shock is the only thing to describe what coursed through Ed in that moment.
"Wh-what?" Ed spoke, dumbfounded.
"Oh, has little brother something to add?"
"I said, you're so stupid." Alphonse repeated, "All these years you have carried this guilt over what happened to my body. It's time for you to realize that it wasn't just you! We were both stupid, brother. I need to be responsible for my own actions, too!"
Al, weakly clapped his hands together.
"Al! What are you doing?"
"It was my mistake, too! My Gate should be enough!"
"Two winners in one millennium, let alone one minute!" Truth said, as Al put his hands on his own Gate, "Very good! Very good!"
Alchemical energy crackled around Alphonse's Gate as it peeled away from existence, revealing the continuing blank expanse behind it.
"Al!" Ed called as he rushed over to Al, who collapsed from exhaustion.
Ed and Al looked up in alarm as Truth spoke again.
"Though, correct your answer may be," Truth grinned, "It is not equal."
Al gasped, and Ed's grip tightened.
"Your Alchemy means less to you than it does to your brother, it is not equal," Truth spoke, the thousand voices mocking, "You gave your body for access to the Truth, every day you went without your body... its value went up. Your Gate for your body. This would be equal."
The grin disappeared from Truth's empty face.
"But now I have your soul."
"Then the same trade stands!" Ed growled, "The same as before!"
"'Give him back,'" Truth said, the voice Edward spoke with as a child dominating the thousand others, "'Take my arm, take my leg, take my heart, take whatever you want; just give him back. He's my little brother, he's all I have left.' Is that the trade you speak of?"
"Yes! Just let us go!"
The Truth stood silent.
"I'm sorry, brother, I messed it all up..." Al said weakly from his side.
"Shut up, Al," Edward said, "It's not your fault... and... thank you."
Edward bent his head, his bangs covering his eyes.
"Thank you for enduring, for waiting."
Ed and Al looked up sharply at the figure before them.
"I will take back your arm."
Al slipped from his grasp, sitting up on his own as Edward held up the arm he had so recently regained with relief flooding his face. He watched as it disappeared before his eyes, peeling away from him and fading into the whiteness, leaving the auto-mail port that it had rebuilt itself over.
"Go, then," Truth said, grinning, gesturing toward Edward's Gate as it opened behind him.
Ed lifted Al with his good arm, helping him walk back to his Gate, light pouring from within. They stood just before it, a single step all that was needed to be home.
"Go, but know that it is not enough. Know that the next time you call upon the knowledge of Truth, I will be there, and I shall collect."
"What do you mean by, that?" He demanded.
"You said 'anything', did you not?" Truth said, "It shall not be so simple as an arm this time."
"Damn it, be a little more clear! What do you want?"
"A favor. Simple enough, yes? Generous, even," Truth said, "I will take nothing more from you, save... time. There are other worlds that need saving."
Alchemical energy crackled around the auto-mail port and the auto-mail arm reassembled there.
"A parting gift, I will see you again soon, Mr. Al-che-mist."
But Truth was gone.
"Come on, Brother, let's go." Al tugged in his arm, "Whatever the Truth has left for us, we'll face it; together."
They stepped into the light and when Al next opened his eyes, it was to a bright, warm world, and the faces of his friends and family.
Five Months Later
Ishval was really damn hot. Edward groaned and pulled the tan cloak's hood further over his face. Then again, it was the end of summer wasn't it? Go to the desert during the summer; great idea. But he had put this off long enough, and given a little more time, Al would be fit as he should be and Ed couldn't wait until then.
Al was going to be so pissed.
Edward continued through the streets, glancing around at some of the newly repaired buildings, he looked up and saw his goal; a humble building that housed the military command in charge of the Ishvalan restoration.
"...Major General Roy Mustang continues the restoration effort at breakneck speed, backed fully by the Fuhrer Grumman as well as the Lieutenant General Olivier Armstrong of Briggs, who even gave one of her own, a Major Miles, to aid the effort..."
The radio sounded in the streets, perched on the counter of a small shop providing food and water for several Ishvalans, Amestrian Soldiers, and Amestrian civilian volunteers. There was a barely noticeable film of tension, that had been chipped down by months of working together rebuilding Ishval.
Edward had heard of some radical groups opposed to the restoration, however those were thoroughly crushed by the skilled team commanded by the Major General in charge of the effort.
Edward came up to the building, looking it over. Two guards stood on either side of the entrance. Very familiar guards.
"Lieutenant Ross! Sargent Brosh!" The two look up to see Edward waving with a grin.
"Edward!" Maria smiled, "How are you? How's your brother?"
"Yeah, we haven't heard from you since we left Central." Denny added
"I'm good, Al's doing great, but what about you?" Ed asked.
"There's a lot of paperwork involved in bringing the dead back to life," Maria laughed, "Apparently I'm lucky Captain Hawkeye was there to make the Major General do it."
"Still a lazy bastard, even now?" Ed said with a huff, "Figures."
"Edward that's no way-" Maria started.
"Wait." Ed held up a hand, realizing something, "If you're here, then-"
Ed paled as the doors were flung open.
"Oh, it is so good to see you! The epitome of brotherly love and loyalty-"
"Major... you're... strangling... me." Ed gasped out.
"Lieutenant-Colonel. I'm sure that's enough."
Armstrong turned to the side and released Edward before standing at attention and saluting, Maria and Denny saluted as well from their posts at the door. Edward looked to see Mustang standing in the doorway, Hawkeye half a step behind him.
"At ease." Armstrong, Maria and Denny lowered their arms, the former standing stock still looking outward from their posts, "Lieutenant-Colonel Armstrong, weren't you about to head over to the twelfth district?" He said, looking up at the giant of a man.
"Of course, sir!" Armstrong replied, "I couldn't leave without welcoming the Fullmetal Alchemist to Ishval first! I shall be on my way then!"
With that Armstrong made a dramatic scene of leaving the area, sparkles following him away. Mustang fixed his attention on Edward.
"Well, Fullmetal, it looks like you might have actually grown a centimeter or two."
Ed twitched, and clenched his fist, speaking through gritted teeth.
"Good to see you too, you damn smug bastard," Ed said, "Came down to meet me at the door? What an honor."
"When the Major saw you from the window and came charging down I figured someone had to save you." He said with a goddamn stupid smirk why am I even here, "You can come in you know; you have technically been here for two and a half months now, so you have the authorization to be in this building."
"Yeah..." Edward turned sheepish, "Thanks.. for that, by the way..."
"It wasn't a problem, how's Al?" Mustang said with a smile gesturing for Ed to follow him in.
Ed fell into step at his side, shoving his hands into his pockets and slouching a little, shrugging.
"Good, he's gotten started on eating all those things he put on that list. He still needs the crutches, if he wears himself out too much. Drives me nuts every time I see him walking without them, Winry too. But then he just goes on about my auto-mail recovery, saying if I could do it so could he." Ed went on about Al's recovery and how he got sick from devouring an entire apple pie.
"So then why are you here and not there?" The ever observant Hawkeye said as they came upon a door that she reached to open. She stood at the opened door, looking at Ed and gesturing for them to go inside, her eyes seeming to pierce his very soul.
Okay, that was an exaggeration, but goddamn! That woman could make him feel so guilty.
But she also didn't expect a response; he could tell as she looked at him and he just smiled guiltily and followed Mustang through the door.
Three sets of eyes fixed on them.
"Boss!" Havoc said with a grin, "Good to see ya!"
"Yeah, boss, but what are you doing out here? I thought you were taking care of your brother." Breda said.
"Winry can handle him for a little while, I haven't seen you guys in ages!" Ed put in a grin, turning the conversation from his brother. He was a damn shitty liar, and he knew it, the less he talked about his brother the better.
"Well that's so nice that you came out to see us," Kain said (the only one in the group that he didn't feel awkward about thinking of by their first name).
"Yeah, I," Ed swallowed, "I missed you guys."
He said it in a light tone, giving it the sound of less meaning than it truly held.
They talked for a while, about the progress of Havoc's physical therapy (his crutches leaned against his desk), and the latest news from Falman up north. They also spent a great deal of time poking fun at the fact that Ed was wearing his uniform.
"Hey Mustang, you got a minute to talk?"
The Major General looked up from his work that he had brought out from his own office (though not much of anyone's work got done while the elder Elric was in the room).
"Of course, Fullmetal," He said, standing, "I assume you mean privately?"
"Yeah," He said, looking nervous, "It was great talking! I'm glad we got to catch up."
He grinned at Havoc, Breda, and Kain.
"Of course, boss," Havoc said, "I have to head out soon, so when your brother calls to ask why you haven't called him since you got in, give him my best, alright?"
"Yeah, definitely," Ed said with a crooked smile.
Hawkeye opened the door to Mustang's office, holding it for them as Mustang walked through.
A meaningful look passed between Mustang and Hawkeye and their arms brushed lightly so Edward realized that it wasn't a look between Mustang and Hawkeye but a look between Riza and Roy.
Before she closed the door behind them he turned and said something, he had to say something because this woman had protected and cared for them and after that door closed he might not see her again for a long time.
"Thank you," He blurted out, then took a breath, looking at her with all the emotion and gratitude he could muster, "Thank you."
She smiled, "There's no need for that, Ed. We're family, it's what we do. We'll always be here for you, whenever you come home."
Because somehow she knew that this was goodbye, at least for now.
The door closed and he turned around to see Mustang leaning against his desk. A minute of silence passed in which Mustang looked at him calculatingly. A frown marred his features. He lowered his gaze, and slapped the paperwork onto his desk, making Ed twitch in surprise.
"Damn it, Edward! Why do I feel like you came here to say goodbye?" He nearly growled, then sighed, slumping a little against his desk.
When he looked up, determination was clear on Ed's face.
"When I went to get Al back from the gate, I intended to give up my alchemy, as payment," Edward started, "Al wouldn't let me."
"He... wouldn't let you?"
Ed proceeded to tell him of what occurred with Truth. The Major General gripped his desk tightly in the ensuing silence.
"So now..." Mustang said, "You intend to go alone."
"Al has lost enough to my stupid mistakes, I won't let him give up any more," Ed clenched his fists, "He decided to take responsibility, even though it was all my fault in the first place. He gave up his alchemy, so I wouldn't have to give up mine. I know he thinks... that it was both our mistakes, but I'm his older brother, I should never have led him down that path. I never should have told him we could bring her back. I never should have believed it myself."
"No. This is something that I need to do," Edward looked at him with fire in his eyes, "I have to go this one alone. I won't let Al sacrifice any more."
Mustang pinched the bridge of his nose, glaring at Ed.
"I want to say 'you're not leaving without me to watch your back'," He shut his eyes, sighing, "But-"
"But you can't, because you have a job to do, and you have people who are counting on you, relying on you," Ed finished for him, "That's why I came here."
"Because my hands are tied," Roy looked up at him sadly, pushing away from the desk and walking toward Ed, he laughed dryly, "I didn't know you could be so cruel."
"Sorry," Ed grinned sheepishly, "After all that you've done for Al and I, this is the least you deserve."
"So what do I tell Al?" Mustang asked.
"The truth, and tell him I love him." Ed said, "He can't chase after me, and he's thousands of miles away so he can't stop me either."
"You've got all your bases covered, don't you," Roy said, glaring at Ed.
"I learned that from you," Ed retorted mockingly.
"But you're missing something," Mustang said, "What if I stop you?"
"But you won't," Edward said, at him with a pained expression, "Because you know that I have to do this. You know more than anyone else what I'm feeling right now."
"Yeah... I know," Mustang said, sighing, "For what it's worth, I'm proud of you, Edward."
"It's worth lot," Edward said quietly, earnestly, "That's also why I'm here. It's not just so someone will know where I've gone and who to tell what. I wanted to thank you, while I had the chance. Okay, you're and asshole and a bastard-"
"And you're a shrimp, what else is new?"
"-but everything you've done for my brother and I... I don't even know how to begin to repay you. I wanted you to know how grateful we are, because I've been too proud, or angry to say it before, and I don't want to miss what might be my last chance."
"DAMN IT, ED!"
Ed's eyes widened in shock as Mustang gripped the front of his shirt, lifting him from the ground with surprising ease, and Ed was brought back to the day they met.
"Stop talking like this is the last time you'll ever see me!" Anger was something that Roy didn't often express, but it was clear as day on his features as he glare at Ed, "You better come back to us! I won't accept anything else! You got it, Fullmetal?"
"Yeah, I got it, ya bastard."
"Good," He said as he dropped the Fullmetal Alchemist on his ass. He stared down at Edward for a long second before smirking.
"Weren't you going somewhere?" He asked casually as he turned and walked to his desk, sitting gracefully behind it.
Ed pulled himself to his feet.
"See you soon, Mustang!"
Edward clapped his hands together, still grinning from ear to ear. Alchemical energy sparked around him before pulling Ed apart before his eyes. In seconds the space before him was empty where the Fullmetal Alchemist once stood.
The phone rang. Roy picked it up.
"Sir, Alphonse Elric is on the line."
"Put him through."
Roy waited a moment and then a short beep signaled his being connected.
"Alphonse! How are you?"
"He's gone, isn't he?"
Roy smiled sadly.
"You just missed him," He said.
Silence on the other end.
"Thank you, Major General," Al said, resigned, after a moment.
"He said to tell you he loves you, and that he'll be back," Roy said.
"He didn't say the 'I'll be back' part, did he?"
"No," Roy admitted, "But he will be. I've made sure of it."
"Since when does he listen to you?"
Any other day this would have been a joke, and they would have laughed. Today, with the tired, defeated tone of Al's voice, there was only pain.
"Welcome back, Mr. Al-che-mist," Truth's thousand voices echoed, "But where is your brother?"
"Not here," Ed said sharply, "I can handle whatever 'favor' you need alone."
"So sure, Mr. Al-che-mist," Truth grinned, "We will see. Have you enjoyed your gift?"
Ed grimaced, lifting his auto-mail arm, "Winry looked at it, said it was exactly the same as the one she made for me at Briggs. Not a bolt out of place."
"So glad you approve."
"Well? What is it?" Ed asked, "You said something about other worlds needing saving."
"Yes, so I did, and so they do," Truth said, "But I will ask you to aid only one."
"Easy enough, I already saved one world, didn't I?" Edward gave a cocky grin and Truth tilted its head to the side with a Cheshire grin.
"So confident," Truth said, "Arrogance was once your downfall, do not let it be again. This world that I shall send you to save is.. very different from the one you know, and yet quite similar. The one greatest difference... is that the people do not believe in me. Not anymore."
"What are you talking about?" Ed demanded, "Does this mean there's no alchemy there? No equivalent exchange?"
"You are correct, Mr. Al-che-mist," Truth answered, "In that world something... some power manifested itself separate to me. Some of the people were born with this strange thing," Truth scowled, "They call it magic and they use it to their little hearts' content, warping the world and using the power with no consequence, no equivalence. Yet there was nothing I could do but watch. I have nothing over this power, it is alchemy that I govern. It's ridiculous to think, isn't it? I, who have shaped your life, your world, so powerless over another," Truth sneered, "Yet they are fools all the same, and have led themselves to ruin over and over with dreams of power and immortality. One nearly succeeded, living nearly seven hundred years through the creation of a philosopher's stone-"
"Not made of alchemy, yet of something similar, though based in their magic," The Truth waved it off, "Yet he, too, met his end; recently, at that. The people posses some modicum of intelligence and they destroyed the stone, leaving such power from the hands of men, no matter how above men these wizards believed themselves to be. So I was content to let them be. People will make war and kill each other enough to keep them from getting anywhere near God, and none had the drive, the intelligence, or the time that Father did."
"But now someone has," Edward concluded.
"Not yet," Truth hissed, "Not yet, he hasn't, and he will not! But I have complained enough. I can not control the people. That is impossible, I know this. Yet, I still have a responsibility to the fools, and I will not abandon them while this madman destroys them for the sake of achieving God. I can do nothing, this is why there is you."
"Okay, so go to this world, kick this guy on his ass then go home," Edward said, "Sounds easy enough."
"It may not be so simple as it seems," Truth said, "My connection to the world still exists, unused though it may be, so I may send you to this other world. Tread carefully, their powers are strange, and not to be underestimated in competent hands."
"So who is it?" Ed asked, "Who am I after?"
"Tom Riddle is the man's name, though he may scarce be called a man still," Truth grinned, "Good luck, Mr. Al-che-mist."
Edward kept an expression of steadfast determination as he felt his body being torn away from the plane and thrust into darkness.