To Call Your Name
A/N: Inspiration for this struck like lightning, and one should, in turn, strike while the iron is hot, so here is the first chapter. Subsequent chapters may take longer because I have two crossover fics running right now that take priority (Nowhere is Safe and An Unsound Soul – feel free to check them out ^_^).
UPDATE: I HAVE NOW DONE MORE RESEARCH INTO THE TIMELINE OF THE MANGA, SO THIS STORY BEGINS IN THE FALL OF 1908, AT WHICH POINT THE ISHVALAN WAR HAS NOT CONCLUDED. Hence, I will be making some edits to the published chapters so that all of the timing is accurate.
"Do you think Resembool will have changed much since we left for Dublith with Teacher?"
"What do you mean, 'mm'? Are you even listening to me, Ed?"
"Uh-huh. Yeah, sure."
"You're not listening at all, are you?"
"Whatever you say, Al." The elder brother then realized his mistake and hastily made to cover for himself. "I mean, of course I was listening!"
"Don't call me a liar." Ed promptly thwacked his little brother with a finger, leaving a small red area on the boy's forehead.
"Ow! Ed! I thought you'd moved past the phase of hitting me."
"I didn't hit you; I thwacked you."
"Don't be a jerk. "
"Don't be a baby, Al," The elder brother retorted as he returned to his previous occupation of watching objects whiz by the window. He'd always enjoyed traveling on trains – the rush of the wind, the steady rhythm of the wheels clattering underneath, the swaying motion of the cars as they raced along the metal rails. It was a mechanical lullaby of sorts, one that often overpowered him with its unexplainable charm. He had been in tune with that man-made melody when Al had asked him about Resembool, and now he would have to resettle into it. Maybe he would be able to nod off before they reached the station…
"Ed, is… is that smoke?"
"What?" Ed sat up and looked where Al was pointing. Sure enough, plumes billowed upward from ahead of them… where their destination lay. "What the hell?"
Normally, Al got on Ed's case about his foul language, but not this time. When the train pulled beside the humble platform, both boys had grabbed their luggage and stood ready to leap off as soon as the steel behemoth slowed to a halt. After doing so, the brothers looked again toward the distant smoke.
"It… it looks like it's coming from close to where we live," Al noted timidly.
"I sure as hell hope not, but I'm sure Granny will know what's going on. Let's go." And so, they made their way toward the Rockbells', following the familiar dirt roads. When they could finally see the house on the horizon, they heard the first blast. Another quickly followed, and another.
"What's that sound?"
In answer to Alphonse's question, a screeching filled the air. Seconds later, the Rockbells' house exploded. Both boys gasped and bolted to the scene. Wood, stone, and earth had all been churned together in a pile of burning wreckage, so hot that Ed and Al couldn't get anywhere close to it.
"It's that damn war! Why hasn't the military stopped it yet? They're supposed to protect us, dammit!"
"Ed… you don't think… you don't think Granny and Winry were… inside, do you?"
Now that Al had raised the question, Ed couldn't push the possibility away. "There's no way to know," he said, much more bravely than he felt. He didn't want to think about losing any more family right now, not when they'd been moving toward the goal of getting some of it back. "Let's hope not."
More canon fire sounded in the distance, and Ed could make out the figures of soldiers moving through a deserted pasture. Setting down his trunk, he climbed on top of a rock to get a better look.
"We should move," Al pointed out.
"Yeah," Ed answered after a moment. "I want to get closer."
"Closer? Are you crazy? We could get killed!"
"We'll stay low. As long as no one sees us, we'll be fine. Come on."
"What? You're not scared, are you, Al?"
The smallest of offended tears collected in Al's eyes as the younger brother collected himself to his full height, which left him towering over Ed. "Yes, I am," he admitted without a hint of shame. "I'm scared that I'm going to lose you, too. Let's not go down there, Brother, please."
But the elder brother had made up his young mind. He wanted to see up-close why these incompetent bastards from the military couldn't put a stop to all of this fighting. Not waiting for Al to relent, Ed began his descent, using the sparse trees for cover as much as possible. At the base of the hill was a gully about a yard deep, narrow enough for Ed to hop over with effort. Once he reached level ground again, he ducked behind a cluster of bushes and waited. Around him lay discarded weaponry – canons, sandbags, guns… just more remnants of war. When he finally peeked over the top of the vegetation, Ed saw not Amestrian military, but Ishvalan rebels encamped on the next ridge. Whoa, he goggled. I've never seen an Ishvalan before.
"Ed?" whispered Al from several yards up the hill. "Brother, come back. It's dangerous."
"No, it isn't. Come on and join me, Al."
"Not on your life. You're gonna get in trouble, or worse."
"Quick being such a crybaby and come on!" Ed hissed as quietly as he could, motioning to Al.
Looking miserable, Al emerged from his hiding place and edged cautiously down the hill. Then, he momentarily lost his footing and kicked a rock in his haste to regain his balance. The stone clattered loudly against an idle piece of artillery… and that was all it took. A gunshot broke the silence, and Al's eyes widened. The boy looked down at his shirt where a dark stain was slowly spreading across his chest. Then, he met his brother's gaze, still in shock, and fell forward, tumbling down the hill and into the shallow ravine.
"AL!" Ed screamed, forgetting everything else and running to the spot where Al had disappeared. More shots rang from across the field, and Ed felt a bullet connect with his left calf. His muscles seized up in response to the wound, and he, too, tipped over the edge of the gully. The Ishvalans probably wouldn't pursue; they would think he was dead, just like-
No! the small blonde caught himself. No, don't think that! He can't be… Al can't… He dragged himself to his little brother's side, lifting the trembling form into his lap and rocking fitfully. "Al… Al! Come on! Say something!"
The younger brother opened his eyes halfway, and though they were filled with a mix of emotions, the strongest by far was forgiveness. "Buh… Brother…" Already the light was fading from the golden gaze.
"No! No, Al! I'm so sorry! This is all my fault! Please, don't leave me! Don't do this, Al, please!"
Alphonse brushed Ed's face with a tender hand. "It… it's okay. I'll tell Mom… to wait just a little longer… until you bring us back… Ed…" As his brother's name left Al's lips, his hand fell back onto the trampled grass, and his gaze drifted toward the sky until it formed an unblinking, unseeing stare. A smile still graced the boy's mouth as the remaining color drained from his face and his body grew cold and still.
"Al?" Ed choked. "Al? Come on, Al. You… you're not… you can't…" Only by remembering that enemy forces were still nearby did the elder Elric keep himself from screaming again. Instead, he dropped his forehead against Al's and whispered his brother's name over and over, as if, by repeating it enough times, he could draw the soul back into the lifeless body.
As evening approached, Ed thought on Al's last words. That's right; it was up to him to piece back together the family that had been so torn apart. He could bring Al back, and he would. In the last few days of their training with Izumi, Ed had finished a draft on a diagram for the circle that would revive their mother. It was ingrained in his memory perfectly, and he wouldn't need any extra ingredients, which would lessen the complexity of the transmutation. He could do it, right now.
Using a mixture of his and Al's blood, Ed painted the array on the low turf, making adjustments for the semicircular surface of the ground. He then placed Al's body in the center and pressed his hands against the circle, willing it to activate and hoping beyond hope that the Ishvalans wouldn't see the transmutation.
He stood before an endless void, whiter than anything he'd ever seen before. Looking behind him, Ed saw a towering set of stone doors, carved with a pattern he recognized as a Sephiroth Tree. "Weird," he mumbled. "Wait a sec. What was I doing before?"
"Hello," said an unearthly voice, like the whispers of millions joined in one. Whirling around, Ed found a shadowy figure sitting cross-legged in front of him.
"Who are you?"
"Oh! I'm so glad you asked! I am called by many names. I'm the world, I am the universe, I am God, I am Truth, I am all, I am one, and I am also… you." It pointed a transparent finger at Ed, and the boy suddenly heard the creaking of the doors behind him swinging wide. The faceless being continued, "You have dared to knock on the door. Now, the door is open." Black hands emerged from the darkness, wrapping around Ed and dragging him into the depths. Scared out of his senses, Ed screeched in alarm. "Quiet, child," the entity hushed. "This is what you wanted, isn't it? I will show you… the Truth."
The doors slammed shut, encasing Ed inside. And then, streams of pure knowledge bombarded his senses. It was like all of the information in the world was being poured into his brain at once. "It's too much!" he shrieked. "It's too much! Make it stop!" The black hands began unraveling his body as easily as loose thread, which only made the boy cry out louder. "What's happening to me? Stop it! MAKE IT STOP!" Then, for an instant, it all became clear – the Truth… of everything. He saw Al just up ahead, holding out his hand for Ed's and smiling warmly. "AL! Al, wait! I'm coming! Just wait, I'll-"
SLAM! He was outside the doors, his body whole once again, standing with his hand extended toward where Al had just been.
"How was it?" asked the Truth.
Ed fixed the being with a fierce glare. "What happened? Where did Al go? What have you done with him?"
"That's a stupid question, young alchemist. Your brother is dead; I haven't done anything with him."
"You're lying! You have to be! I have to bring him back!"
"That is impossible."
"But…" Ed turned back toward the doors, "but it was all in there – the truth about Human Transmutation. It's possible; it must be! All the knowledge I need is right here! Please, you have to show it to me again!"
The entity finally rose from its seat and sighed, "I'm afraid I can't do that."
"Why not? You have to! I'm going to bring him back! You can't take him from me! You're going to give him back, you hear me!? I… I had so much I didn't get to say to him! It's my fault he's dead! I talked him into coming with me! I have to make it right! I HAVE TO BRING HIM BACK!"
"So much you wanted to say?" the Truth repeated. "Is that so?"
"Yes, so please, let me see it again."
"As I said before, I can't do that. I've already shown you as much as I can for the toll you've paid."
"Toll? What toll?"
The shadowy being approached him, backing him up against the closed gateway. "This. Surely you knew." It touched his throat, and Ed choked as something began to feel very, very wrong inside of him. The Truth's face contorted into a menacing, mocking grin as it concluded, "It's the law of Equivalent Exchange – right, young alchemist?"
Suddenly, Ed experienced a dropping sensation, and the next thing he knew, his legs collided with earth. The pain of the bullet wound returned in full force, so sharply that Ed cried out… or, at least, he tried to. He opened his mouth, but no sound came out. Then, he lurched forward and coughed blood onto the ground. As he suppressed more convulsions, his watering eyes landed on Al's body, but… it looked nothing like his little brother anymore – the limbs had been contorted, sticking out at impracticable angles, the features twisted beyond recognition. It was a monster; he had created a monster… and it was still dead. He had failed. Overcome by misery, Ed broke down into sobs, but still no cry came from him. He tried to say Al's name, to call for him one more time, but it was useless. Ed finally realized what was wrong, what the toll had been. He rested a trembling hand against his throat where the Truth had touched him… and admitted the reality. His voice was gone.
A/N: Yeah, this is not a cheerful story. But, I have the most fun writing that kind; angst comes much more naturally to me than fluff does.
I figured, since 9-year-old Edward is especially cocky, that he would want to get close to a battle, unlike the ever-sensible Alphonse.
No joke – "Sephiroth Tree" is the name of the diagram on Ed's Door of Truth. I looked it up.