Six years after the Promised Day, Selim is both Homunculus and child, remembering the past while trying to live as a human with Ms. Bradley. As he studies alchemy under Edward and Alphonse, Selim realizes that it is possible to resurrect his family, whom he now misses. The Homunculi deserve the same second chance that he was given, but while they all struggle to accept and embrace their newfound humanity, a hitherto unknown player enters the game with a deal that disrupts and divides their lives. Coming from a past they can't even remember, are her intentions really what she claims? Post-FMAB with bits from 2003 series. For Homunculi-lovers.
Phylactery: In fantasy, a phylactery refers to an item in which the soul is contained. The owner of the phylactery cannot be killed until the phylactery is destroyed. The choice of this name is two-fold and will hopefully become clear as the story progresses.
Cover picture: The Two of Coins from the Alchemical Tarot deck. It comprises an Ouroboros with two heads – a lion and eagle – encircling the sun and moon. The lion represents that which is fixed/stable, the eagle represents that which is volatile/unstable, the sun represents the masculine or soul, and the moon represents the feminine or spirit/mind. The main theme of this card is Change. The choice of this image will also hopefully become clear as the story progresses.
This story will go through three main phases:
1) The opening chapters that establish the setting and feel,
2) An indeterminate number of chapters (probably 40 - 50) that could best be described as serious drabbles which will vary considerably in length,
3) And then the serious plot.
Characters: Pride and Envy are the main characters of this story because they have the most screen time in the main plot. However, all of the Homunculi will get their turn in the spotlight (except for Wrath). There will be no Original Characters. Main characters (such as Ed or Roy) will appear, but they are not the focus and will only appear to serve the plot.
Disclaimer: Fullmetal Alchemist is the property of Hiromu Arakawa, Square Enix, and Funimation Entertainment. I do not own any rights to the series, and will remove this story from the site without protest if requested to do so.
FMA Versions: Although I have watched FMA and FMAB in both dubbed and subbed versions, I watched the subbed version first, so to me, it is the 'original'. Therefore, if I need to quote something word-for-word, it will be coming from the subbed version, and I will be using subbed spellings for the names of people and places. I also read the manga, but plan to follow Brotherhood wherever details differ. When I reference the 2003 series, I will make explanatory notes at the end of the chapter for those who haven't watched the first series, but you should still be able to follow along without any trouble.
Rating: If you watched FMA and FMAB without issue, nothing in this should offend you. There will be mild language, but nothing more than was in the series. There will be violence, but nothing horrendous. There will be one chapter dealing with sexuality, but it will be more theoretical than graphic.
Reviews: I am most concerned about realism and consistency. I will appreciate any comments, but I especially want to hear whether my character portrayals are realistic. If there is anything said or done that you find hard to believe, that's what I'm most interested in. I am also concerned about being too wordy, so speak up if things are slow.
Number of words: 12,127
Published date: August 7, 2012
Began chapter: November 22, 2011
Finished chapter: January 24, 2012
Chapter 1: Prologue
Everything was ready. Nothing was missing. Every detail, every step, every action had been calculated, planned, and prepared months in advance. They hadn't forgotten anything.
Even knowing this, even being absolutely certain of it, Selim still went through his mental checklist one more time. In order for it to work, everything had to be perfect.
He looked around the room critically, considering their preparations. It was a large room – a basement, in fact – because if all went according to plan, it would soon become far more crowded. The building, unfortunately, did not have electricity wired to its bottom level (an oversight by the architect, perhaps, or simply an assumption that the room was only for storage and did not need light), and it was thus lit with oil lamps. Their light was steady in the dank, musky air, but they cast shadows that lent the scene a sinister feel. But then, that felt appropriate, given the situation. The humans, too, never tried to perform their taboo in the bright light of day. Perhaps it was a subconscious decision on their part, a shaming desire to hide what they were attempting. It should have been a clue to them: if they were truly certain that their human transmutation would succeed, why did they choose to welcome their departed loved ones in a place of darkness? Surely a place of sunlight and blue sky would better reflect the alchemist's hope of defeating death.
Selim frowned at this thought and sharply forced himself back to his considerations. The timing had been unalterable and the basement was the largest available space. The fact that it was dark and sinister was unfortunate, but they had had no other options.
Despite being intended for storage, the room was mostly empty, the objects disturbed from their accrual of dust and moved elsewhere to provide more room. The ceiling was a touch on the low side, but at Selim's height, it wasn't noticeable. The floor, originally rough gravel, had been alchemically smoothed to perfectly level concrete, and it was the lines and symbols drawn on the floor that attracted Selim's attention.
Simple white chalk. It still seemed incredible that the ability to perform alchemy, to change and shape one thing into something else, could be achieved with the most simple of tools. Ink, paint, chalk – even blood – could be used to realize the alchemist's goal. The chalk marks made lines of intricate circles on the cold floor. Each and every line was necessary, of course. One large circle, taking up the entire breadth of the room. An eight-pointed star, formed by two overlapping squares. Five smaller circles inside the star, arranged as the corners of a pentagon, each containing an octagram. Inside, a tightening ring of circle and pentagon, circle and pentagon. From the points of the final pentagon, lines crossed and intersected, ending in small circles.
Those were only the obvious features of the array. The text along each edge, the double ring on the outer circle, the symbols… It had taken almost a year to develop the formula, and nearly three days to painstakingly reproduce it on the floor. In all honesty, Selim could have drawn the array much faster, but caution had slowed his hand. There had been plenty of time and it wouldn't do to make a mistake.
An experienced eye could recognize the disparate elements in the design: the overlapped squares were a rare choice, usually only seen in transmutations involving living things. The octagram, a weighty symbol that influenced the ephemeral realm of soul and spirit, had once been used in soul-binding. The tight circle and pentagon ring could be used to create an imperfect Philosopher's Stone (with the proper formula and live ingredients), but the inner lines, using alkahestric principles, formed a reverse pentagon to draw energy from the centre. All in all, any alchemist could see that the array was ambitious, most wouldn't be able to make heads or tails of its purpose, and many would predict it to fail from an internal inconsistency.
Selim paused at each feature, mentally rehashing the logic behind them. That line meant this. The text around the outer edge meant that. The symbols represented different elements and would combine in such-and-such a way.
He couldn't find any errors. This was stupid. They were positive that the formula would work. They had spent the past two months critically analyzing every little detail. He was just nervous. He was just nervous and double-checking things was only an excuse to distract himself from what would come next. He couldn't allow himself to hesitate now. He couldn't afford to hesitate. People were relying on him. Though they didn't know it yet.
Inside each of the five circles, in the empty space at their centres, were the necessary ingredients. Only with a Philosopher's Stone could an alchemist create something out of nothing, after all. The piles were not identical, but each had been carefully calculated to contain the requisite elements: Water, carbon, ammonia, lime, phosphorus, salt, saltpeter, sulfur, fluorine, iron, and silicon, along with traces of fifteen other elements. As Edward Elric had commented years before, the ingredients were easy to find and could be bought with a child's allowance.
Selim took a deep breath and let it out with a sigh. There was no use in mentally re-calculating the elements in each pile; even if something was wrong, there was no time to make any changes. The only other thing left for him to think about was the steps he had to take once the proper time came, but he had gone over those steps for what seemed like a million times already. He had little doubt that he could recite them in his sleep, if need be. Like an athlete hard in training, he had visualized himself performing each action in vivid detail, flawless, confident, and always successful. So why didn't he feel that way now? Why was he so nervous?
Teacher must have heard his sigh, because his hand came to rest on Selim's shoulder, giving a small but comforting squeeze.
"Worried?" he asked softly.
Teacher always had a soft voice, gentle and mild and polite. Selim's natural instinct was to lie. He didn't like admitting that he was worried; it stung his pride to make such a confession. Admitting that he was worried was the same as saying that he wasn't certain of his – no, of their – work, that he wasn't sure that they were right in this plan. And it would also be an admission that he wasn't confident in his ability to perform his part now that the time was upon them.
But Selim was not the same person he had been six years ago. If he could be called a 'person' at all, since technically he didn't meet that definition. Teacher and Big Brother were adamant that a person was a person when they chose to be. It was in man's nature to struggle with his sins, and so Selim worked at controlling his pride and arrogance. It was easier, of course, to feel humble now that he no longer possessed a body superior to humans. He could be injured. He could die. As a child, he did not have the means to protect himself from harm. Despite these facts, though, pride could still rear its head every so often, as it was doing now.
Humility, he reprimanded to himself silently. There is no reason to lie to Teacher. You are worried. He won't judge you for that.
Selim opened his mouth to respond, but found that his throat had gone dry. Cursing his nervousness, he cleared his throat before answering.
Teacher raised a skeptical eyebrow at the boy's dry voice and hedged answer. Selim blushed.
"All right, more than a little," he amended. "What if… What if we're wrong somehow? What if this doesn't work? What if there's a rebound?"
"I couldn't stand it if Mother had to lose me a second time…"
Teacher's hand tightened on Selim's shoulder and forced him to turn and face the young man. His eyes were concerned, but not pitying or angry or upset, the way Big Brother's might have been, for which Selim was thankful. As much as he respected Big Brother's passion and obstinate determination, right now he much preferred Teacher's calm level-headedness.
"Are you worried that maybe this isn't the right thing to do?" he asked.
Selim shook his head. "No!" he shouted, angry at the suggestion. "No, this is the right thing to do! I have to do it. That's not what I'm worried about! It… it's just a lot to risk. And I don't even know if they'll appreciate it. I guess… I guess I'm just afraid of how they'll react…"
Selim was surprised to find his voice catch at his last words. He hadn't realized how scared he was of their reactions until he admitted it out loud. That, at least, was something humans and Homunculi shared in common: the ability to hide from yourself what you most don't want to acknowledge.
Teacher frowned thoughtfully, and when he responded, he chose his words with care. Another thing Selim appreciated about the man: he almost never spoke hastily. Big Brother was so blunt and rough and rash. He always said exactly what he thought, usually phrasing it in the most brazen and insolent way possible. Honestly, how Selim could hero-worship someone with such little self-restraint was a mystery he doubted he would ever solve.
"What if they don't appreciate it? What if they're angry at you for this? What if they hate you for it? If you knew that was how they would react, would you still do it?"
The question was phrased so seriously that Selim didn't reply immediately. He could see, thinking back, that he had purposefully chosen not to imagine how they would react. He had rehearsed all of his actions up to that point, but hadn't considered what came after. Because he wasn't certain. He couldn't honestly say for sure that they would be happy or thankful. What if they were angry? What if they did hate him?
Just imagining it was painful. Maybe Selim wasn't entirely human – old habits and thoughts died hard, after all – but he was human enough to realize how much it would hurt for that to be true. If he were still Pride, the question would have made him sneer. So long as he was doing what would please himself, why should he be concerned with how they felt? Why would he want to feel the way humans did, being hurt when others were angry at them or hated them? Caring about others meant you could be hurt by them. It was ridiculous from a Homunculus's point of view. Selim had to mentally shake his head, firmly reminding himself of the truth: Humans are strong precisely because they can feel each others' pain. They beat us because they care about each other even though it can be painful.
The fact that he could imagine that same pain was a clear indication of how much he had grown. It was hard to believe that only six years had gone by since the Promised Day. Six years seemed like an eternity through the eyes of a child; from the eyes of a 400-year old being, it was no time at all. And some of that time, Selim couldn't even remember. He could vividly remember "Pride's" last moments. The fear as his container crumbled around him, the unacknowledged pain of being completely ignored by Father, the burning contempt for Edward for not only challenging him, but also for understanding his desire for Father's approval and praise. His shock as Kimblee's voice spoke from within the tempest of souls clamouring in his Philosopher's Stone. The humiliating terror as Edward turned his attack against him, invading his body and mind and tearing the souls from his Stone. The last thing he remembered as Pride was Kimblee's smooth assertion that he did not understand Edward Elric. His world had disintegrated around him and gone black.
Selim could remember virtually nothing of the first year of his 'rebirth'. Though he knew the major details of that time, the knowledge was second-hand. He knew very little about human children, but it was apparently normal for a person to not remember being an infant. Homunculi were not born; they came into existence fully grown and cognizant, so it was understandably frustrating to him that there was a period in his new life of which he was not now aware. Selim could only be thankful that the period of ignorance had not been very long. His body had not matured any faster than a human child's, but his mind had regained most of its intelligence and memories by his second year. With a six-year old's body and a 400-year old's mind, he was a hidden prodigy.
He had learned the story from Mother near his third birthday, having finally gathered up the courage to ask her. At the end of the Promised Day, Edward had presented his tiny body to his mother, wrapped in a red coat, apologies, and sugar-coated explanations. The boy couldn't bear to give the entire truth to her, and he feared that even the half-truth he gave would be too much. He admitted to her that Selim was an artificial human, created by a being as a pawn in order to gain incredible power. He told her that Selim had lived with and watched the military since Amestris's creation, spying and masquerading as a child. And he told her that, having lived with the Bradleys, having been cared for and loved in his foster family, Selim had slowly come to have a glimpse of humanity. Edward had seen into Selim's soul as they fought, and in what he believed to be his final moments, Selim had clung to the image of his family over the image of his creator.
Edward could have killed Selim. Many would say that he should have. He had instead spared the boy's life. Taking Selim to Ms. Bradley, Ed knew without any doubt that she would take and raise him, bearing the pain of his revelations with the determination to continue loving her foster son no matter what.
Of course, it hadn't been as simple as that. Those in the military who knew of Selim's true identity tried to reason with Ms. Bradley: in his present state, he did not look dangerous, but they couldn't know what he was capable of. He was a dangerous being who had helped plot the destruction of the country. He had flawlessly pretended to be a child, never revealing his true nature to those closest to him. How would he react in the face of failure, with his creator and siblings all dead? What if he wanted revenge?
Major General Olivier Armstrong believed that Selim should be killed immediately. Edward was a sentimental panty-waist, giving compassion to his enemy when he should have shown no mercy. Ed had admitted himself that Selim only looked like a child; killing a baby might be difficult, but nevertheless, it should be done when the thing only looked human. General Roy Mustang, promoted soon after the Promised Day, also believed that leaving Selim alive was the wrong decision. Pride had been directly responsible for his forced human transmutation and subsequent blindness. Though his eyesight was restored soon after, he could not be comfortable about letting Selim live. Captain Riza Hawkeye, too, remembered Pride's threats from the shadows; she doubted she could ever truly be convinced that Selim was no longer a danger, and his action against Roy was something she could not forgive. Izumi Curtis, fierce though she often was, had a soft spot for children and understood Ed's reluctance to kill the boy, but she too doubted the wisdom of the aging woman's desire to raise him again.
These details were left unspoken, too painful for the Fuhrer's widow to hear, but they may not have made any difference. Ms. Bradley had the demeanour of a mild woman, with dignified propriety but not a lot of wilfulness. That image was quickly abused in the minds of those who stood against her. Ms. Bradley listened politely and calmly to each and every argument. She offered no resistance, submitted no retorts. Their concerns and cautions had no visible effect, noted and dismissed like raindrops on a leaf. She would not be dissuaded. She would raise Selim as her own no matter what anyone else said.
Ms. Bradley and Selim lived at the Fuhrer's estate in Central for a little more than two years. The military insisted on keeping a close eye on Selim for those first two years. The guards and frequent military visits had already been a normal part of her life, and the servants of the estate carried a lot of the burden from her shoulders. It was hard to care for a child while mourning her husband's death, but Selim, as he had been in his first life, was well-behaved, crying and fussing very little.
Ms. Bradley knew, however, that they could not live at the estate forever. She feared the effects of the place on both of them. The estate belonged to the military and was intended to be the residence of the current Fuhrer; she was reminded of King's death just by living there. He had been the Fuhrer. He had died serving his country, a man more powerful and capable than men half his age. She was as proud to be his wife as she had been the thirty-odd years ago when he had first caught her eyes… and she had first caught his. But she had accepted, too, that his primary duty was to Amestris. He had been a leader first, a husband second. She had often wistfully longed that he were not quite so dedicated… only to remember that she loved him because of his dedication. Now that he was gone, every room held memories that made her want to smile and weep at the same time. Too often she would look up eagerly when heavy, determined footsteps approached the room and a blue uniformed sleeve opened the door, only to be disappointed when one of the officers under Fuhrer Grumman formally asked leave for her time. If anything, she had to leave the place for her own health, but she wanted to leave for Selim's sake as well.
Selim, once adopted, had lived the sheltered and privileged life of the Fuhrer's son. He had tutors and servants at his disposal, attended classes specially tailored for military children, and was accompanied by guards wherever he went. Before, Ms. Bradley had wished that he could live a normal life, but reasoned that he at least had lived as a regular boy with her husband's relatives before his adoption. This time around, he was not guarded, but watched as the threat. He was not allowed to leave the estate grounds. Only the guards and servants were aware of Selim's existence outside the military, and even they did not know what he was – only that he was to be watched. The rest of the populace believed the story that Selim had died along with King Bradley in the coup, and the military meant to ensure that no one discovered otherwise.
How would that feel to a young boy? What impact would it have on Selim to grow up being watched suspiciously, to never be allowed outside of his home? By his second birthday, Selim had not shown any signs of remembering his past. He was kind. He demonstrated compassion and concern for others. He acted no differently than any other child, playing with the carefree joy of being alive. But he was still smart. He could see the shaded glances of the officers when they came to visit, though they tried to act natural around him. He could see people on the streets of Central from the mansion's windows. How was Ms. Bradley to answer when he asked, "Mama, why are the soldiers afraid of me?" What reason could she give when he asked, "Why can't I leave the house, Mama? Why do I have to stay here all the time?" And he obviously did not believe that the mark on his forehead was a simple scar, as his mother claimed.
Perhaps, with more time, the military would believe that Selim was harmless. Perhaps they would eventually allow him the same freedoms as everyone else. Ms. Bradley did not want to wait for that time. Her arguments were almost as persuasive as her determination: It could not be good for a child to grow up being watched. It was more likely that Selim would remember his past if he continued to be watched. It was also more likely that he would remember if he lived in the same house and city as before. She did not want to live in the mansion, being reminded of her late husband and feeling guilty over occupying a home that rightfully belonged to the Fuhrer and military. She did not wish to be a burden to them. If they continued to live in Central, the risk was greater that Selim's true identity would be discovered, whereas if they moved elsewhere, he could be given more freedom with less risk.
As to be expected, Fuhrer Grumman and those other officers who knew Selim's secret were not persuaded right away, but with each visit, Ms. Bradley presented her request with ever increasing boldness. With no suspicious behaviour on Selim's part and no counters to her arguments, Fuhrer Grumman eventually gave in, providing Ms. Bradley with a smaller (if still impressive) home in the South and a monthly stipend. (The military could not very well allow the late Fuhrer's widow to go without support.) With another half-year of persuasion, Ms. Bradley was also able to dismiss the servants and guards, wishing only for the two of them to live in peace without any reminders of the past.
And live in peace they did, for some time. Ms. Bradley's few friends, not knowing about Selim, believed that she moved to the countryside to mourn the death of her husband and son, leaving the painful memories of the city behind her. It was not good for the aging woman to be all on her own, but they could understand her decision nonetheless. Selim was not yet of the age to attend school, and he could spend the days in carefree play. The nearby villagers did not know who they were and the anonymity, a new experience for both, was an added pleasure.
But the peace could not last.
Selim had begun to remember everything – Father, the Homunculi, the Promised Day, his own identity – shortly after his second birthday. Part of him was still Pride, and that part was mildly insulted that the humans forgot (Oh, how quickly they forgot!) how he had played at being a child for nearly four centuries. Hiding what he was was second nature to Selim.
It was not the same acting as before. Selim was both Homunculus and child, and he did not have to act now. He liked playing games. He cared about those around him. He loved his mother. These things were not a lie, and the key to his act was in behaving as the child inside him pleased. What he did have to fake was how much he knew and remembered. He understood why he was being watched, but had to pretend otherwise. He knew why he was being hidden from the world, but had to pretend that he did not understand.
Without any of his powers, with only his true body and his soulless Philosopher's Stone, Selim could not afford to show the military even the slightest suspicious act. There was no way his mother's protests could save his life if that happened. Yet, to his own surprise, it was not his own life he feared for when lying. Selim wanted to protect his mother. He wanted Mother to be happy, and losing him again would only cause her pain. It was better for her to believe that he remembered nothing. Maintaining his act was the best gift he could give her, the kindest thing he could do for her. The child Homunculus was tired of pretending, but firmly resolved to make this sacrifice for her sake.
Once they moved to the southern countryside and dismissed the guards and servants, though, Selim's resolve began to waver. He found himself repeating, over and over, the conversation he had had with Alphonse Elric while trapped in the darkness of his earthen cage.
"I can't believe you tricked that nice woman."
Alphonse's words rang in his mind insistently. At first, Selim couldn't understand why they seemed so important. Was he feeling guilty over how they had lied to her? It was hardly the worst lie the Homunculi had told in their pursuit of Father's dream. Compared to the other things they had done – setting up the Ishvalan civil war, using human lives to create Philosopher's Stones, manipulating Amestris's entire history to create the Nationwide Transmutation Circle – lying to Ms. Bradley about Pride's identity was probably the most innocent and innocuous.
But as he continued to think about it, Selim realized why he felt such guilt: he was still tricking Ms. Bradley. He had deceived Mother in the past, and he was continuing to deceive her now. This time around, his goal was for her good, but that didn't make any difference. He was lying to her. He was pretending and acting, the same as he had in the past, and it wasn't fair to her.
For the first time in the Homunculus's long life, logic and sentiment competed. Did the ends justify the means? Lying to Mother was for her own good, but it still wasn't right. Telling her the truth would be painful, but at least she would no longer be manipulated. Which was better?
He wrestled with the question for a full month before deciding that, whether it was nicer for Ms. Bradley to live an illusion or not, he could no longer tolerate lying to her. She deserved the truth, no matter how unpleasant, and he would allow her to be the one to decide what came next.
This didn't mean he wasn't scared. He was. Selim was terrified of her reaction, terrified of what she would do with him. Would she inform the military and allow them to take him away? She couldn't hide what he would tell her, could she? Would they simply kill him, or perhaps send him to one of their laboratories for experiments? Would the despair of being betrayed by her dear son, and of betraying him in turn, push her over the edge? Making the decision did not mean that he could immediately and easily act upon it. Fear stilled his tongue, doubt plagued his heart, and shame welled up every time he hesitated at an opportune moment.
The revelation, when it came, was brought about more by Pride's arrogance than by Selim's resolve. The Homunculus could not tolerate the weakness of the child, and once the shame became too great, it virtually compelled the boy to speak. Better to face whatever came with his head up than to wallow in weak human fears.
He rehearsed what he would say and how he would say it, but as is so often the case, when Selim seriously sat his mother down and prepared to confess that he had tricked her yet again, all of his carefully chosen words fell completely out of his mind. Instead, the small dark-haired boy could only cry in his mother's arms, explaining between sobs, trembling in fear of her reaction. Surely she would hate him. Surely she would push him away, afraid of and angry at the monster that had taken advantage of her love and kindness twice.
Maybe this woman was special. Maybe 'real' humans would have known better. Maybe he had simply believed that he knew more about humans than he really did. In any event, her reaction was not what he had expected.
She cried, of course. She was clearly hurt that he had been tricking her. But instead of recoiling from him, she had only gathered Selim more tightly in her arms, stroking his hair soothingly until he calmed down enough to be surprised.
"You're not mad at me?"
"No, dear. Just… disappointed, in a way."
"You don't hate me?"
"I could never hate you, Selim. You're my son. I'll always love you."
"But I'm a monster! I've been lying to you all this time! It was just an act! It was never real!"
"It was always real to me."
He couldn't believe it.
His Homunculus half was flabbergasted, utterly incapable of understanding. How could she forgive so much so quickly? There were humans who would throw their lives away to protect what was dear to them, but at some point common sense had to kick in! Could emotion override logic so much? It was ridiculous. He wanted to shake the fool woman!
His human half only broke down in relief, ashamed of having doubted her and embarrassed by the fears that should never have crossed his mind. Of course Mother wouldn't hate him! A mother couldn't hate her child; it was just impossible.
She still loved him. But that didn't mean she could just accept him and continue on, did it?
"Selim, do you remember? It was about a year ago now, and you found a little sparrow hurt in the garden. Do you remember that day? Fuhrer Grumman was visiting."
"No." Selim shook his head, and then frowned. "Maybe. It sounds familiar…"
Ms. Bradley smiled. "It's alright if you don't remember. It wasn't really a special day. It was just the last time Fuhrer Grumman came to check up on us personally while in Central."
Selim didn't say anything, but he went still and put his head down, waiting for her next words.
"I don't remember exactly what he said, but it was something like, "We're going to watch him for a bit longer. If he starts to show anything out of the ordinary, you know what will happen.""
Selim's fist scrunched in his lap, and without meaning to, he blurted out, "I don't want to be anything out of the ordinary! I wish I didn't remember! I can't do anything! I'm just a child now. A helpless child who can't do anything…"
He started to cry. Again. Damn, but this was humiliating. He had faked crying in his old life, but it had been very infrequent, and the humiliation was countered by the pride of the performance. Envy wasn't the only actor in the family, after all.
"Why can't they just leave me alone now? Father is gone. Everyone must be dead, or else someone would have come for me."
Selim could only assume that the other Homunculi were dead. Lust, Gluttony, and Wrath were certainly dead. Sloth had been ordered to kill the female general, and since she was still alive, that meant he had been defeated. He didn't have the brains to escape and hide. Pride hadn't heard anything more of Envy since he'd left to recapture Doctor Marcoh in the North; since the doctor had appeared at Kanama to join the fight against Pride, Envy had obviously failed and been defeated as well. He might have survived and escaped, and he could easily have assumed a new form and hidden among the humans, but he was loyal and would have returned to Father if he was able. Miserable Greed had predictably shown up at the end, insolently hoping to steal Father's power. Avaricious fool! It was possible he had survived the final confrontation, and the humans probably would have let him live since he'd fought on their side (for his own purposes, though they wouldn't see it that way), but it was far more likely that Father had reabsorbed him.
"The plan failed. What can I do? I just want to stay here."
He turned to Mother, grabbing her arm insistently.
"I want to stay here with you! Don't make me leave!"
Ms. Bradley spoke as if Selim had never interrupted her.
"Do you know how I responded to Fuhrer Grumman? I said, "I'll see that he doesn't show anything.""
Selim stared up at his mother, surprised by her tone of voice. She said it like a vow, with a hard edge of resolve that was entirely unlike her normally docile carriage. Her green eyes were gazing out the living room's large bay windows, but she was seeing the memory rather than the trees and fields beyond.
For a few seconds, Selim didn't understand. How could she make a promise like that? She could do her best to raise him, but whether he reverted to his old self or remembered his past were things entirely beyond her control…
Then her meaning clicked and Selim gasped, one part mildly scandalized that his mother had lied (A child is always shocked when they first discover that their parents break the rules they impose.), one part delighted in the trick she had played on the Fuhrer. Ms. Bradley merely looked down at his noise and smiled at his understanding.
She promised that she would make sure he didn't show anything, not that he wouldn't have anything to show.
She had promised, straight to the Fuhrer's face, that to her, Selim's well-being came before anything else.
Of course, this news relieved Selim, though he hoped that his words and fears had shaped her decision to protect him more than simple foolhardiness. He was not a danger anymore, and more importantly, he did not want to be a danger; if there was any indication to the contrary, Ms. Bradley's response might have been quite different. She couldn't know for certain that he was not lying to her, but if he had grand schemes of revenge or plots to destroy the country, it made far more sense to continue the ruse rather than to make confessions.
Neither mother nor son knew what to say next, and they sat in silence in the spring's warm afternoon sun for a long time.
Ms. Bradley was the one to eventually break the still quiet, her question for Selim quite practical:
"What will you do?"
What would Selim do? He was not a child in the normal sense. In two more years, once he turned five, he would be expected to start school – but what would be the point? He knew all the material, having studied and tested the same subjects – math, history, science, and the like – multiple times. It had been torture to fake enthusiastic interest for his tutors, as if he were learning the subject matter for the first time, when in fact he knew far more than his teachers. Once students finished their schooling, they chose a profession or field that interested them, sought more training, apprenticed, found jobs, and contributed to society. Being what Selim was, could he do that too? Did he want to do that too? What did he want to do?
Selim didn't know. He had only ever wanted to fulfill Father's goal. Father would become a perfect being. He had gained an immortal body and freed himself from his human weaknesses. He had opened the planet's Doorway of Truth and created a Philosopher's Stone using 50 million lives. He had seized God for his own, seeking nothing less than complete freedom from everything, including the laws of nature.
How could Selim have his own goal, his own desires, in the face of such ambition? Any goal that humans had seemed petty and meager in comparison. Go to school, work, have friends, fall in love, have children, live, and then die? It was like asking someone to crawl when they could fly. It was like asking someone to be satisfied with a small hovel when they had lived in a palace. It was like asking someone to live on bread and water when they remembered the taste of the king's feast.
These comparisons felt harsh, but Selim couldn't say that he would be satisfied with a normal human's life. Not yet, anyway.
In an effort to avoid showing these thoughts, he asked Mother to tell him everything she knew about the Promised Day, and she obligingly recounted all that Edward had told her. It wasn't much. A lot of the information was clearly distorted, the truth twisted into an easily digestible story for the general public. Ms. Bradley knew, like the public, that the plot had been more sinister than a simple coup d'état by the military higher-ups to overthrow the Fuhrer and seize power. She, unlike the public, knew that not just ordinary humans had been involved (though she didn't know the technical term homunculus). But her knowledge was vague and answered none of Selim's most pressing questions: What had happened to Father? How had he been defeated? What about his siblings? How had they each met their end? Pride might have had no sympathy for his fellow Homunculi, but Selim found that he cared quite a bit about their fates. He wanted to feel sad about their deaths, but couldn't embrace the emotion properly until he knew how they had died.
Recognizing this desire, what Selim wanted at that moment suddenly became so clear to him that he didn't know why he hadn't thought of it before.
He wanted to speak to Edward and Alphonse Elric.
They were the only ones who could answer all of his questions. They would know everything, but wouldn't want to kill him when they found out that he remembered.
That was what Kimblee had meant, after all. Pride had thought that Edward was going to kill him, but Kimblee had somehow known that that was not Edward's intention. Pride hadn't understood that Edward was not willing to kill even a creature as inhuman, as cold and arrogant and dangerous, as the Homunculus Pride. Selim still didn't completely understand Edward's choice in sparing his life, but he thought he caught a glimpse of Ed's reasoning when it came to his mother. There were so many humans and their lives were so short that the death of one hardly mattered. And yet, Ms. Bradley's life held so much value to him. He never wanted her to die. If that was the case, then every human life held significance above and beyond its significance to just that one person. And so, no life should be ended unless it was absolutely necessary.
Selim had changed and grown, and that was why Edward had spared him: because there had been the possibility for him to grow and change. To become… human.
Well, that was pushing it. Selim was not human, and he never would be. It was more accurate to say that he had become sympathetic with humanity. Humans still had a lot of faults; they were still violent and illogical and selfish. But they also had a good side that Selim could recognize and appreciate, if not completely understand.
Mother was somewhat surprised when Selim declared his wish to see the Elric brothers, if only because she had assumed, given that Edward had reduced Selim to his current state, that the boy would consider them to be enemies. But his request was not at all antagonistic or deceitful, and Edward had in fact visited once to see how the child Homunculus was faring (though at an age when Selim was too young to remember).
Ms. Bradley had to give Selim the unfortunate news that Edward and Alphonse had left Amestris almost a year ago. Even living in the Southern countryside, she still heard gossip through her social grapevine. Many of her friends were military wives, and although Edward was no longer a State Alchemist, he was still a popular conversation topic. Alphonse journeyed to the East, aiming for Xing to learn alkahestry. Edward travelled west to Creta. According to gossip, he and his brother planned to return to Amestris and Resembool in the year 1918 to consolidate their new knowledge. It would probably be another half a year before they returned. A year and a half didn't sound like a long time to learn a new form of alchemy, but on the other hand, it would be the longest the brothers had ever been apart.
Selim was of course disappointed by this news, but Ms. Bradley optimistically reassured him that the Elrics' return would come sooner than he expected. Once they heard that Selim wanted to meet with them, she was sure that they would come. She wrote a letter requesting their presence at the earliest convenience, carefully choosing her words to prevent unwanted readers from uncovering Selim's secret while trying to hint to Edward that the visit would be more than just a courtesy call.
For the next few months, life returned to normal in the Bradley household while Selim waited for Edward's return. Ms. Bradley worried that Selim would suddenly start to act differently after his 'confession', but her concern was largely unnecessary. Selim's behaviour was little different than before, and he continued to amuse himself in the typical pastimes of a three-year old child. If anything, he actually seemed more carefree and at ease, the burden of constantly maintaining his deception lifted from his shoulders so that he no longer needed to worry about what he said or did.
The most prominent change was that Selim now felt free to reveal just how intelligent he actually was. Children's storybooks were quickly supplemented by newspapers, philosophy, and politics. Selim continued to enjoy colouring books and jigsaw puzzles, but also began to challenge Mother at skilled strategy games like chess, go, and shogi. His speech was more developed than the average three-year old, and he adopted an adult-like seriousness in sharing responsibilities with his mother for their home's upkeep, attending to chores and details – like checking the roof for loose or lost shingles and covering the rosebushes' roots in the garden to protect from oncoming winter snow – that even adults might not think to do.
Those months were not filled with mindless play for Selim. One part of him was anxious to speak with the Elrics and learn the truth of what had happened on the Promised Day, but Selim also rationally had to consider the future regardless of what the Elrics revealed. Father's ambitious struggle for power and freedom left him jaded with the typical goals of humans. Pride's residual arrogance was still strong. Try as he might, Selim could not accept the idea of being just another ordinary human.
The idea came to him in the middle of Edward and Alphonse's visit.
Edward had been hopeful that Selim would remain with the mentality of a child, but Alphonse had realistically expected that that wouldn't be the case. When Envy had been reduced to his true form, he had retained his memories and personality, and there was no reason to believe that the same wouldn't be true for Pride. Even if the shock of his defeat had left him physically and mentally weakened, the memories were probably still there. As the brothers travelled to the Bradley home, Alphonse's guess as to why their presence was requested was far closer to the truth than Edward's, and he was not in the least bit surprised when Selim nervously began the same confession that he had given his mother a few months earlier.
Selim hadn't expected the brothers to be too upset by the news, and he was right: Edward looked somewhat disturbed and a bit angry (especially once he realized that the military was being deceived), but considering the young man's usual hot-headedness, his reaction was mild at best, while Alphonse appeared largely unsurprised and undisturbed. He asked a few questions to clarify what exactly Selim remembered and whether anyone else knew, and then fell silent along with Ed as the two considered the implications of this revelation. Selim, afraid to make any requests until he saw their reactions, sat silently as well. Ms. Bradley, seated beside Selim, found the whole situation uncomfortable and fidgeted with her teacup nervously, afraid that the extended silence bode ill for her and her son. Perhaps they shouldn't have been so certain that the Elrics would keep their secret…
Alphonse noticed Ms. Bradley's expression and characteristically moved to calm her fear.
"Please don't be worried, Ma'am. We're not going to tell the military-"
"So long as you're not plotting anything," Ed said, curtly cutting his brother off.
Al made a face, but Edward didn't notice. He had leaned forward, his hands clasped and elbows resting on his knees, with his golden eyes intently holding Selim's gaze.
"Why tell us all this? What are you aiming at? What do you want?" he asked. "If you're hoping to use us again, it won't work."
"No!" Selim gasped, angry at the suggestion. "It's nothing like that! I'm not plotting anything! I'm not like that anymore! I've changed. I just-"
"How are we supposed to know that? Let me be frank, Selim: You weren't exactly a bad actor. How can we know that you're telling the truth?"
Selim pulled back from Ed's challenging tone and gaze, wilting under his accusing words. He hadn't expected Ed to be so aggressive, but he couldn't blame the young man. Pride had done so much wrong. He could name several things off the top of his head just against the Elric brothers personally: He had taken control of Al's armoured body, attacked both of them, tried to kill their father and friends, and fought against them to ensure that the Nationwide Transmutation Circle activated successfully. More indirectly (but certainly still seen by the brothers as acts against them), he had hurt and threatened Riza Hawkeye, forced Roy Mustang to commit the taboo of human transmutation, and deceived Ms. Bradley.
Pride's arrogant logic didn't factor into it. He couldn't make excuses for any of the things he had done.
"…I can't prove that I'm telling the truth. Anything I say to convince you could be a lie," Selim murmured. "But I know I've changed. I lied to Mother to protect her. I told her the truth for the same reason.
"At first, I didn't understand why you chose to let me live. It didn't make sense. I was your enemy; you should have killed me. I always just thought that humans were weak and sentimental and foolish. You let yourselves be manipulated so easily. A simple threat to someone you cared about was all that was necessary to restrain you."
Selim spoke softly, with his eyes down, but he could still feel Mother stiffen at his words from her place by his side, and he hastened to what he wanted to say next.
"But all of that's changed! I know what it's like to want to protect someone now. I understand what it means to care about someone. I think about all of the people that died because of us and I can't even imagine trying to apologize, because it would be impossible. And I think about Father and the others – Wrath and Lust, Envy and Gluttony and Sloth, and even Greed – and I wish that they could have… I don't know, that they could have understood that. That life can't just be relegated to numbers and usefulness.
"I know you can't trust me and there's no reason for you to think that I've changed or that I'm telling the truth, but I just wanted… I just wanted…"
He took a pause, fighting against the way his throat was tightening and his eyes were becoming blurry.
"I just… wanted to know what happened. To Father. To the others. How they died… You were the only ones I could ask. I just want to know… what happened."
Selim fell quiet and the silence stretched. He kept his head down, trembling and struggling not to start crying again, though it was probably a losing battle.
They aren't going to tell me, he thought miserably. They don't believe me. They think I'm just making stuff up to try to convince them that I can be trusted. It's not fair! I'm not Pride anymore! I-
"I believe you."
"I knew that you could change, but I had to test to make sure."
Edward's hand – his right hand, made of flesh instead of automail – fell on Selim's shoulder and pushed so that Selim was forced to lift his head up and look at the two brothers. Alphonse was wearing a small smile, while Ed's serious expression had softened somewhat.
"It was my choice to let you live, and I wouldn't regret that even if you were the same as before. I resolved to not take life and I still stick by that conviction, but my decision has put you in this situation, and I'm sorry for that. It can't have been easy." Ed switched his gaze to Ms. Bradley. "For either of you."
Ms. Bradley smiled mildly and lifted her free hand in a placating gesture.
"I won't say it's been easy, but I can't say that it's been hard. We always got a lot of attention, you know, as the Fuhrer's family! The security and visits were never a big deal. Except, well, before he told me, I was worried about Selim's health. Needing to keep him a secret, always being watched…" She sighed and peered down into her tea. "And now this. I wish things could be simpler. I wish we didn't have to lie. A part of me wishes that I could just go back to living in ignorant bliss!"
Ms. Bradley gave a light laugh as she spoke, but Selim still flinched as if at a blow.
"I'm sorry, Mother. I didn't have to tell you-"
"No, dear. I'm glad you told me. A child shouldn't have to carry such a burden alone. You're happier this way, and that makes up for any wistfulness on my part."
Edward leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms thoughtfully as he studied the pair. Al turned to look at his brother, and when Ed's eyes slid to the side to meet his own, Al nodded.
"I think we should tell him. It's cruel to leave him in the dark," Al whispered.
"Yeah, I think so too," Ed whispered back. "If I were in his shoes, I'd want to know the whole story. He might feel bad for a while, but it's better than not knowing. And it's not like there's anything he can do about it now, anyways." He raised his voice to a normal level and addressed Ms. Bradley. "Ma'am, I don't suppose you'd mind leaving us alone for a bit?"
Ms. Bradley started in surprise at the request.
"It's nothing personal," Al said. "Some parts of this story are different from what you've heard, and it would just be better and easier this way. We're sorry to be so rude about it-"
"No, not at all. I understand," Ms. Bradley assured them as she stood up and gathered the boys' empty teacups and tray. "Why don't I go brew another pot while you boys talk?"
And with that, she left, and Selim was able to hear the whole story for the first time.
From Al, how Envy had had his Philosopher's Stone completely depleted in the North, reducing him to a tiny lizard-like parasite. How the little foreigner girl, told to take Envy back to Xing for her clan, had instead returned to Central where Envy was able to replenish his powers. From Ed, how he had revealed his guilt in Maes Hughes' murder to Roy Mustang, who had burned him to the verge of death in furious vengeance. And in the end, how Envy had torn out and crushed his own Stone to escape the humiliation of his defeat by the humans he secretly and ashamedly envied.
From Major Armstrong and Izumi Curtis, how Sloth had attempted to kill Major General Armstrong and been repeatedly killed until his Philosopher's Stone ran out and he died permanently.
From sheer conjecture (since neither of the Elrics had run into Scar after the Promised Day - though rumours were becoming more believable that he was indeed alive - or had an opportunity to ask Lan Fan), how Wrath had fought Scar to prevent his interference with Father and had finally succumbed to his grave injuries, dying in what seemed to be a pose of satisfaction and acceptance.
From both boys, Father's confrontation above ground as everyone joined forces to defeat him. His horrendous creation of people using the remaining souls of Xerxes. His intention to replenish his Stone by using the lives of the people who stood against him one by one, starting with Ed. Al's sacrifice of his metal body to restore Ed's real arm. Father's attack on Greed, pulling the Homunculus from Ling's body to seize his Philosopher's Stone, which backfired as Greed turned his father's body into the weakest carbon in existence. Father's revenge on his rebellious son as Greed was torn away and discarded, coupled with Greed's own fulfillment in having helped secure victory and saved his friends through his own death.
And finally, Father's own end. Seized by the black hands of Truth, slowly collapsing into himself, bound and crying that he only wanted to be free, the first true Homunculus had been sent back to the realm from which he had come.
Selim didn't speak, but the changes in his expression as the story was told spoke for him.
Upon hearing of Envy's defeat, his mouth twisted in scorn. Upon hearing that he had confessed to Hughes' murder, a disbelieving shake of the head. Upon hearing of his suicide, a displeased frown mingled with sadness. At Sloth's death, Selim looked unsurprised but regretful. At Wrath's, he momentarily bowed his head out of respect. The others had looked down on Wrath because of his young age, inability to heal, and decision to take a human wife, but Pride considered Wrath to be second only to himself in terms of skill, strength, and resolve.
At Greed's death, Selim couldn't keep the conflict from his face. Ed obviously considered Greed to be a friend. Pride, firmly in the Homunculi's camp, and Selim, taking the human side, struggled internally against his differing viewpoints. As Selim, he was sad that Ed had lost a friend and sad that Greed had had to sacrifice himself to win the fight, though he was also happy that Greed had been able to die in such a noble way. As Pride, he couldn't stop himself from derogatorily thinking that Greed deserved what he got for his betrayal.
And at Father's death, Selim's expression became blank and stony, like a mask. His creator, his father, had failed. The greatest, most ambitious plan in the history of the planet had failed. Success had been just within their grasp, and yet it slipped away. No one would ever be able to come as close as they had to creating a God on Earth.
Selim couldn't allow himself to think about it. If he did, he would start to question himself. What if it was my fault? Was there anything else I could have done? If I had been faster, if I hadn't allowed myself to be caught… The opposite of pride was humility, but the greatest blow to pride was failure. If he allowed himself to assign blame or second-guess his actions, he could quickly and easily be consumed by the guilt and shame of their defeat.
Ed finished talking and sat back on the couch, trying to discern Selim's thoughts by studying his expression. Al was concerned that Selim's silence meant he was upset. After a few minutes, Selim pulled himself out of his thoughts and realized that the brothers were waiting for some kind of response.
"Thank you," he said formally, giving a seated bow. "I'm not going to lie and say that I'm happy about any of it, but I appreciate that you told me."
Ms. Bradley, who either had impeccably good timing or had been sneaking peeks from the kitchen to see when the boys were finished, returned bearing a fresh tray of tea and cookies.
"So, what are you going to do now?" Ed asked as he reached around Al's arms, carefully filling the teacups, to grab several cookies from the tray on the table.
With Mother there, Selim tried to sound more upbeat, not wanting her to worry about what he'd just heard.
"I'm not sure. Mother asked me that too, but I don't know. I guess the only thing I can do is live as a normal human."
Ed shook his head slightly, not so much in disagreement as in doubt.
"It won't be easy." He popped the last cookie in his mouth before clapping his hands together, holding his hands open for a few seconds, and then shrugging nonchalantly. "I'm still not entirely used to it myself. Alchemy made everything so easy and now that I can't use it-"
"What do you mean?" Selim interrupted. "How come you can't use it anymore?"
Ed looked startled at the abrupt outburst. Selim was sitting forward now, looking up with sudden interest far different from his previously reserved diffidence.
"Oh, I figured you'd already heard this last part. I gave up my Gateway of Truth to get Al's body back."
Selim was stunned.
"But I thought you went to the West to research other forms of alchemy…?"
"I did," Ed said, waving his hand loosely. "Just because I gave up my Gateway of Truth doesn't mean I lost my knowledge of alchemy; I still remember everything, but I just can't use it anymore. The Gateway serves as the medium through which an alchemist's knowledge comes into the world…"
Selim listened intently as Ed continued to explain, while Ms. Bradley looked bewildered. Al noticed her confused expression and smiled sheepishly.
"… That bast-" Ed quickly changed his words at Ms. Bradley's frown. "Er, I mean, that Truth guy asked if I would lower myself to become just a normal person! I mean, I said that I was just a normal human anyway," Selim started, while Ed continued talking, "but I really didn't appreciate how useful alchemy was until then. It's harder than it looks to fix things by hand!"
Just… a normal human? Selim thought slowly. That's right; I'm not sure if I can live as just a normal human. But alchemists…"
"That's it!" he shouted, jumping to his feet in excitement.
Everyone stared, Ed with his mouth still open from what he had been about to say next.
"I can't believe it didn't occur to me before! To either of us!" He turned to Mother wearing a wide grin. "Mama, don't you remember what I used to say all the time? Why I loved hearing stories about the Little Alchemist so much?"
Ms. Bradley could only shake her head in consternation at his slip in using her old pet name – a habit he had stopped after his confession.
"Because I wanted to learn alchemy, just like him! I wanted to become a State Alchemist to help Father!"
Selim turned to the Elric brothers.
"I don't know if I could live as a normal human, but alchemists aren't normal humans. I couldn't study it before because I had my disguise to keep up, and besides, Father already knew everything about alchemy anyway so there would have been no point, but now!"
His fists clenched in determination and his eyes had a starry exuberance that strongly reminded Ed and Al of the first time they had met Selim Bradley in the Central Library.
"I want to become an alchemist!"
Edward and Alphonse were initially cautious of the idea and it was easy to see why: Father's knowledge of alchemy had been used for such a power-hungry purpose. Ed did honestly believe that Selim had changed, but if he were ever to take a turn for the worst with alchemy in his repertoire…
Their concern left Selim quite indignant. He didn't want to rule the world. He didn't want to kill or harm anyone. He wanted to learn and practice an art that would both help others and give him a position somewhat above other humans.
"You shouldn't want to learn alchemy just so that you can impress people!" Ed had exclaimed in exasperation.
"Why not?" Selim challenged. "What did you learn alchemy for?"
Ed's face darkened, thinking that Selim was referring to their failed human transmutation, but then Al laughed in concession, shaking his head at his brother's suspicion.
"He's right, Ed. Our reason for learning alchemy was pretty selfish. We only studied alchemy because Mom praised us for it."
"Yeah, okay, I'll admit that, but you're still too young-"
"Hardly," Selim said dismissively. "Need I remind you that I am the oldest Homunculus? I'm almost four centuries old! And besides, you guys started learning alchemy at a young age too!"
"Well sure, but the military won't just sit by and let you study it; it'd be too dangerous-"
"They'll let me if you say it's alright. It's not like the military licenses people to learn alchemy or anything. They think I'm just a child. I wanted to learn alchemy in my past life, so there's no reason why it'd be suspicious or anything. They'll trust your judgment."
"How about if I said that I'd rather you not have such powerful knowledge?"
Selim gave a hurt expression, which wasn't particularly convincing as it struggled through his excitement.
"Because you don't trust me? Well, that's easy to fix: You can be my teachers!"
"What!?" Ed gaped at the boy. "We don't want to be teachers! We're way too busy with our own research! How are we supposed to teach you when we've got traveling to do and research to undertake and families to visit, huh?"
"But don't you need students at some point? A new form of alchemy deserves disciples, doesn't it? You've got to teach someone eventually or you'll dishonour your own teacher. You'll be able to monitor what I'm learning. I don't mind self-study while you're away. Please? Please? Please?"
Eventually Ed and Al succumbed to Selim's pleading, and so learning alchemy became Selim's defining goal. His mother, unsurprisingly at the time, was not thrilled with the idea of her three-and-a-half year old studying alchemy, but after having accepted the fact that he was far older than he looked, she also had to accept that the argument of 'but you're too young' wouldn't work. Given his unique situation, she was happy to support him, even if she couldn't understand any of the material. She was especially glad to see how happy this new goal was making him.
Selim was an amazingly quick study. It was hard to say whether that was because he had picked up on the basic knowledge during the Homunculi's scheming, whether he had inherited a natural aptitude from Father in the same way that Edward and Alphonse had been naturally gifted through Hohenheim, or whether he recalled some of the knowledge from his assimilation of Kimblee and the nameless gold-toothed doctor. Perhaps it was a mix of all three. In any event, Selim absorbed his lessons like a sponge. He had no difficulty understanding Edward's explanations, he followed Alphonse's demonstrations avidly, and he frequently completed his assigned readings ahead of time, left hungering for more. The only thing he struggled with was alkahestry and reading the Dragon's Pulse – but Alphonse consoled Selim with the fact that he too struggled with the concept of energy and chi, being as they were from Xing's culture and a totally foreign idea to Amestrian alchemy.
He should have been happy.
That was what Selim found himself thinking on his fourth birthday.
The feeling was curious. Selim couldn't quite put it into words. He was happy. He was happy, and yet something was missing. Mother and he lived a simple life. He had no complaints about his days, filled with alchemy, play, and occasional outings to the nearby town. The military seemed to have given up on monitoring him; officers who knew Ms. Bradley sometimes visited, but Selim thought that was more for his mother's sake than because of him. Edward and Alphonse visited on a semi-regular basis, the brothers having decided to settle down in Resembool for a while as they worked on their new theories.
He had no complaints, and yet there was a nagging sense of dissatisfaction, of incompletion, that left a hole in his heart and doubts in his mind, a sense that grew more insistent with each passing day.
Was this how Greed and Gluttony had felt? Gluttony had been little more than a stomach with a mind, consumed by the need to eat to try and sate his hunger, but no matter how much he consumed, he could not fill the literal chasm that had existed inside him. Greed's hunger had not been for food, but for all of the wealth and power in the world. He had wanted to possess everything, a desire that was also impossible to fulfill.
Was this feeling of emptiness simply an inevitable by-product of his new human life, to be endured but never satisfied? Or was there actually something missing from his life? Pride had never experienced anything even faintly resembling sympathy, but Selim understood a certain pity for the two Sins who had been plagued by this restless longing for more.
What was there in his new life that wasn't good enough?
It was his reflections on Greed and Gluttony that eventually led him to the answer.
Selim had Mother. He had friends in Edward and Alphonse, acquaintances in the nearby town. He had a goal for his life, a direction regained after losing Father's dream. He had praise from his mother, from the Elric brothers, the townspeople, and the visiting military officers at his rapid progress in alchemy. But when compared to his old life, one thing was missing:
Selim couldn't delude himself into believing that the Homunculi had been a 'normal' family. He knew quite rationally that theirs had not been the close, loving, and compassionate picture of family that humans long for if they do not have and treasure if they do. Pride had had little to do with his siblings; he had his job – spying on the military officials, killing those who might otherwise impede their plans, prodding Sloth to work whenever he became too lazy, occasionally passing on messages from Father – and they had theirs. He and Wrath had enjoyed their dual act at playing house, and they both had probably wished at times that it was more than just an act, but Wrath had only been around for a short time (in relative terms) and Selim couldn't exactly say that they had been close to each other. Lust, Envy, Greed, and Gluttony had been kept busy outside of Central, doing what they could to foster violence and bloodshed at the necessary points on the circle to carve out the crests of blood and keeping their eyes and ears open for potential human sacrifices. But when they finished their work, they always returned home (with the exception of Greed after the first hundred years), coming to report to Father and receive their next instructions, coming to wait for the next phase of the plan. They had checked in to visit, to be with their own kind, to be where they didn't need to watch what they said, they didn't have to hide what they were, and they didn't need to cover whatever scorn or disgust or contempt (or hunger) they felt for the humans surrounding them.
Theirs wasn't a perfect family. Theirs wasn't a close family. But it had been a family. It had been his family.
Gluttony and Lust had been close to each other. The fondness with which Gluttony stuck by Lust's side had been genuine, as had been his grief upon her death. And Lust had cared about Gluttony as well, watching over him much like a mother. Envy and Greed had fought and bickered as all brothers do. The fact that murder had been committed on both sides was less a testament to hatred as it was to their existence as immortal beings. Greed had run away, but wasn't that common in lots of rebellious human teenagers? Envy had been outraged when they decided to allow Colonel Mustang to live, an obvious hypocrisy when he so loved to ridicule humans for their inability to put logic over sentiment. All of the Homunculi had worked together at one point or another.
Selim had a family in his mother, but he wanted his old family back. He missed them. That was what was missing in his new life that had been a part of his old one: his brother and sister Homunculi.
Selim started as Teacher's voice broke through his reflections. He had completely forgotten where he was or what he was doing, so lost had he been in his memories.
This is no time to be nostalgic! Selim thought furiously. You need to focus! Teacher asked you a question; now what was it…?
That's right: He had asked if Selim would still go through with this plan if they were angry at him for it. If they hated him for it.
Having remembered the past and imagined the pain, there was no doubt in Selim's mind.
"It doesn't matter if they hate me. If they hate me, it's still a price I have to pay."
I know that we were just pawns to Father. I know that we did awful, unforgiveable things.
"This is the right thing to do."
We were made to be what we were. We didn't have any choice. We didn't choose our lives.
"No matter what, this is something that I have to do."
They deserve the chance to be happy. If they can understand what it means to be human, then maybe they can seek forgiveness and happiness as well. If there's even the possibility for a second chance, I have to take it.
Big Brother's voice yelled down from the top of the basement stairs, breaking through the moment.
"Hey! You two ready down there? It's almost time!"
Teacher looked at Selim, waiting for his go-ahead. Selim met his gaze fiercely and nodded. He no longer felt nervous. He felt determined.
Teacher turned and called back up, "Yes, we're ready! How much time is there?"
There was a moment of silence. Big Brother was probably looking out the window and checking his watch. After a pause, his voice shouted back down to them, "About five minutes! Take your positions. I'll give the signal once it's started. Remember; you've got to go as soon as it starts, so once you hear me-"
"Yup, we know!" Teacher replied as he stepped forward, coming to stand at the edge of the transmutation circle.
He nodded to Selim and Selim moved as well, walking slowly and carefully to stand in the centre of the circle. Carefully so as to not smudge any of the lines. Slowly because the moment felt solemn. By standing in the centre of the circle, he was accepting the risk that accompanied it. There was no guarantee that this would work, no matter how much planning and calculating they had done. His life, his soul, and his Stone were part of the exchange.
Once in the centre, Selim turned around to face Teacher.
"Thank you," he said quietly. "I was feeling hesitant, but you helped steel my resolve."
"Don't be silly," Teacher replied. "You steeled your own resolve."
"If anything happens to me, please tell Mother that I-"
"No. I'm not going to take sad news to Ms. Bradley for you. This will work. You'll be fine. Save whatever you want to say for when you see her again."
Selim nodded, heartened by the optimism. I don't know how humans can be so optimistic. Funny how it used to seem so foolish of them, and yet now here I am admiring it! If this works, maybe I'll be that optimistic too some day.
"Now!" Edward's voice shouted from above them.
Selim clapped his hands together, joining the circles drawn on his palms.
Alphonse clapped with him.
Together, they pressed their hands to the floor.
And the transmutation circle began to glow.