The Silent Heart
Chapter Eighteen
My Absolute

- mirage -

Hohenheim removed everything from the parlor so the long rectangular room looked gutted and abandoned. This cluttered the kitchen and Ed seemed confused with all the moving furniture, so Hohenheim told the boy to leave to his bath and relax. He swept the parlor three times, mopped twice, and then checked on Ed only to find him in a state of peace with either arm propped along the back of the tub, a rag on his face, and steam rising upward from his bath. He was pleased Ed could rest and would miss the preparations this array demanded. On hands and knees he crawled about the floor checking between the planks of wood for anything of substance trapped or wedged between them. This would be one of the greatest transmutations of his life and it had to go off without a hitch.

With him obsessing over the wood along the front door, which he felt overly paranoid would carry something in from the street even if just pebbles, Ed appeared in the doorway. "So it's come to this," Ed teased, resting his hands on his hips wearing only his nightgown. "You look senile."

Hohenheim looked up and left the section of floor he'd checked six times over. He smiled with Ed's off color humor and took to the can of paint he'd set in the middle of the room. It would take him a considerable amount of time to make the array, so there wasn't any to waste.

"You don't need to sketch it first?" Ed asked, watching the first stroke of paint glide across the floor like a bleeding pen.

"I don't."

"Can you wash it up if you make a mistake?" Ed sounded worried and Hohenheim smiled.

"I won't make any," he said confidently, and this was the truth. As a father painting the array which would murder his son, there was as little room for error as there was distraction. With all his mental power he doubted he could hide the image and fear this array caused from his mind, and thus painting it would be the easy part.

"How long will this take?"

Hohenheim was painting each line with three coats, and Ed's questions caused him to sigh down to his work. It seemed Ed was also impatient with death. "An hour or two." He looked up. Ed seemed a bit uncomfortable standing in what he referred to as his dress and the eye contact made him blush. "I apologize Ed." Hohenheim laughed warmly. "I think I overestimated myself and miscalculated. If you want to add more layers please feel free." Ed looked irritated hearing this. "I used to move much faster and I am afraid it's been awhile since I've actually made an array with the intent of using it." This was the truth. "Or of this magnitude." Ed gave this a snort and left. "Bring a small towel when you return!" Hohenheim called, returning to his work.

Ed dressed entirely and returned to the parlor half an hour later carrying a small towel. By this time the floor appeared to have bad water damage spreading across it. The black paint looked like mold and rotten wood unless you stood close enough to make sense of the lines. Ed did so, immediately coming with interest when the inner and outer circle were crafted and the detail was being added. "Where did you read about this?" Ed asked, voice stricken with awe. "I've never seen it." The curves of the array were impressive to say the least, the manner of intersection astounding.

"And you won't ever again," Hohenheim said, dipping his paintbrush quickly into the can. He dropped the bristles to the floor and drew carefully letting the line bleed outward only enough to keep its intended width. "I made it," he explained. Ed was silent with respect. "I won't tell you how it's made because it's an evil symbol Edward. It's dangerous and even now if it weren't for my doubt you could assimilate and survive with mental health without your brother I would not attempt it." He stopped painting and looked up. Ed was staring at him with a look of intent contemplation. "Not knowing if I've succeeded when I feed you in I've accepted as my punishment for leaving your mother without explaining why." He stood and cracked his back. "I never wanted any of you to know. You understand something as trivial as human desertion seems picturesque in comparison to all of this madness." He gave Ed a weak smile. "Instead it made you question my love for you, and caused this bitter hatred of me I never wanted."

Ed struggled with his sincerity and forced a barely visible attempt at a crooked smile. "You're redeeming yourself slowly," Ed said, before returning his gaze to the array. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

"Rest," he said firmly. "Rest because you're going to need all of your strength." Ed looked unnerved with this recommendation but silently obeyed and sat down against the wall. "And don't eat or drink further. I don't want you puking on me."

"Ha ha," Ed said dryly, pulling his legs up and resting on his knees. "Get working old man, clock's ticking."

Two hours later Hohenheim dropped his brush into the small paint can for the last time. This was the third time he felt the array was complete, and so Ed remained vigilant but unmoving when he stood up and scrutinized it carefully. He felt desperate there couldn't be the slightest error, and when he double and triple checked he walked to Ed's side and sat down with a heavy sigh. Age was not graceful and his flesh body felt an ache from keeling hunched over on the bare wood.

"So," Ed said softly, staring at the array. Parts were so incredibly intricate barely any of the wood's natural color was present and in many respects it looked like massive portions of the floor had been stained black. The symbolism was appropriate, and it was depressing. Hohenheim didn't feel he had it in him to return Ed's conversation and much of him had come to feel numb as if he had reached a form of mental clarity during a fast moment. The array on the floor seemed like an open blade hurdling at them and he could see the knife clearly coming when in reality the speed of the assault should make that impossible.

Ed elbowed Hohenheim in the side and forced a smile. "Should I strip now?" Ed teased.

Hohenheim managed a fragile smile. "Why not say undress. Strip does not sound quite right for us."

Ed gave his eyebrows a playful bounce. "If that does it for you." Ed moved to stand, bracing a palm on the floor along side him and shifting his weight into his legs, when suddenly Hohenheim felt a panic hit him like cold water. In the second Ed moved to leave his side, he realized this was the beginning of the events which would forever take Ed from him and possibly to Ed's grave by his own hand. Acting with blind desperation he grabbed the front of Ed's shirt and yanked Ed into his arms. Ed came easily with his meager weight, but was hard as a rock and startled into silence with the attack.

Ed sputtered a barely audible choke when Hohenheim squeezed fiercely and forced almost the entirety of Edward's breath from his lungs. "Are you okay!" Ed cried, wiggling to gain some control in the grasp. He was crushed to Hohenheim's chest with his head on the man's shoulder and Hohenheim's own pressed tightly into his neck and over his ear. "Are you having a heart attack!" Ed lifted his hands and grabbed Hohenheim's shoulders, but the grip was painful. On one shoulder Hohenheim felt the cold and dull fingers of the prosthetic hand, and on the other the small flesh hand of his child. The false limbs felt like a blow he'd personally dealt, something Edward was able to manage because there was no one there looking after the boy.

"When you get old you realize science cannot fill the void religion does," Hohenheim whispered. "And you're left with this abyss of questions your youth disregarded as preposterous naive fiction followed only by those who failed to see the absolutes." He tightened his grip until he felt anything further would cause injury, but my god, it felt no matter how tight the embrace Edward was still not safe. "Now who should I ask for help? Help me, help me to save my son. Socrates? Aristotle? Galileo? Darwin? I don't feel the names of the dead will really aid me Edward, but they're the only names I know. I have forsaken the comfort of the unknown and the peace of unscientific irrational belief without the slightest in proof." He moved his mouth to Ed's ear. "Do not become a fool like me."

Ed was overcome with sudden alarm and confusion and began shaking gently. "What?" Ed choked, unsuccessfully trying to lean back for eye contact. "You've done great things!" Ed rejected the concept devotion to science meant nothing when in the end you felt alone and helpless. Even if Edward felt abandoned, rejected, and unworthy of Hohenheim's attention, and was albeit subconsciously determined to make himself worthy and change the equation so it was he who was rejecting his father instead of a man rejecting a boy who couldn't swallow that idea without breaking into tears, Edward bat this sudden confession of morbid despair aside the way one might demand their opponent stand up for the final blow. "You-you have done great things," Ed choked. "Don't call yourself a fool, you've dedicated your life to science, and even though you've done it differently than I would have you…" Ed silenced when Hohenheim's grip tightened with humility and gratitude. "Seriously don't have a heart attack on me," Ed teased shakily, sounding more frightened than humored.

"Edward I just want you to know I am sorry," he whispered. "I know I am frightening you now and I apologize, but if you could just let me hold you for a moment." The thought of giving the boy up made him physically ill. "Even if I succeed this will be the last opportunity I ever have to hold you in this body and in this life." He stroked his hand into Ed's hair, and so clean it was soft well into the roots. Like he did to his wife before they were married he turned his face into it and inhaled the smell Trisha had made and Edward had independently continued. It was the smell of Edward's life and soul radiating out through everything physical in this world. It was trapped in his clothes, in his hair, on his skin, and it was the smell of his son. He was greedy, and held Edward the way he wanted to, the way he wished he was able to throughout the years.

Can I save the bee, if I give it back its stinger?

He had missed the opportunity of his children growing taller, speech growing clearer, opinions forming, and to stand audience to a life blossoming into existence was the price he paid for being allowed one so long at the sacrifice of others. For his extended preservation he was deprived one of the most human functions granted to every human: the ability to be and love as a father to his own children.

Edward tolerated this for much longer than Hohenheim could have anticipated, and it came to a point where even he had to face the truth. He could sit and hold the boy until the end of time to satisfy his own insatiable need to know Ed was safe and warm.

"All right," Hohenheim said softly, keeping his tears at bay.

Ed sat back looking nervous and unsure of this overly parental side of Hohenheim. It was a side Ed did not recognize and could not relate to, and Hohenheim realized slowly, that although Ed could not bridge this concept, without any obligation, Ed still tolerated these small moments of fatherhood. As a smaller version of Ed had at one time, long ago, held a wishful boyhood fantasy for a father, and so understood what it might be like to wish for a son.

"You're all right then?" Ed asked, sounding unsure.

"Yes." Hohenheim tried to place as much reassurance in his tone as possible. He cleared his throat firmly with a nod and Ed was appeased. Ed stood quickly rolling his shoulder and moving on to the next moment with a strength Hohenheim imagined Edward used to move from losing, regenerating, and then losing his mother again.

"Okay," Ed said firmly, nodding a few times to settle their discussion. "Let's get this freak show going."

Ed unbuttoned the top of his shirt before untucking it from his pants with a quick upward yank. Hohenheim stood slowly, recovering at a much slower pace, but determinate to remain a foundation until the end.

Ed stripped his shirt off and handed it over before unzipping his fly. Hohenheim gestured to the kitchen. "Ed, please undress in the other room." Ed didn't stop; he simply began walking to the kitchen while undoing his pants. "And slow down please, I want you to keep your pants on for a moment." He went to the paint can and carried it to the kitchen with Ed's becoming annoyed.

"Hohenheim," Ed said irritably. "We have a communication problem old man." Ed had abandoned unfastening his pants and was unbuttoning the front of his underwear. "I feel the problem is mainly on your side."

Hohenheim set Ed's shirt on the counter and dabbed the brush into the can so he could paint. Ed watched with a growing look of confusion as he stripped his underwear to his waist. "What's this?" Ed asked, beginning to shiver. "Are you painting me too?"

"Stay still," Hohenheim warned, placing a hand on Ed's shoulder to steady him while lowering the brush to Ed's chest.

"You don't have to if it's not necessary. I am ready, my mojo is going."

Hohenheim was just about to place the first stroke when Edward's statement stopped him. He looked up, but Ed's expression was a focused look of unwavering determination. "Your what?" he asked.

"My…" Ed trailed off at a bit of a loss. "You know, my mojo. It means I am pumped, I am ready to roll, I am all juiced up, wired, engines firing, get it?"

Hohenheim felt blindsided by the language his son had acquired. "Edward, where did you hear these expressions?"

"Around," Ed said sourly, before indicating his chest. "Don't get side tracked now. I don't take my shirt off for just anyone." Ed offered a wide smile, and Hohenheim lowered the brush and painted a large circle like a bullseye on Ed's chest. "How much do you need to put on me?"

"A circle here on your chest." Hohenheim painted carefully so the lines would not be altered by Edward's undulating human structure. "And the same pattern again on your back."

"The same?" Ed watched the paintbrush with interest. "Why?"

Hohenheim sighed. He considered explaining it. It would expose the rational he was using three arrays so that Edward's palpable form would be caught in the middle and the transmutation would not have the choice of rejecting him. If it wanted to activate, and Hohenheim was certain it did, it would have to do so by consenting to the demands he had written. This was a theory and concept that had come to him with age and to his knowledge the alchemy world had not discovered this principle yet. This meant he would be divulging an alchemic variable to Edward which would never be needed within safe transmutations, and therefore, something he'd rather keep from the boy. Also, by explaining this, Edward would realize that the circles were not connected, and would inquire as to how he was going to simultaneously manually activate all three when there was only one of him. This would beg the haunting explanation that he had no intention of activating the others himself, and that with the first and second layer painted on Ed, it would be Ed's blood and life which was going to activate them. By sandwiching Edward's body into the transmutation circle, the alchemist which existed within his son, like an electrical charge, was going to fire rapidly when Edward's systems began failing. Edward's possession of alchemy and will to return to Alphonse was going to collide into a chemical and alchemic reaction that would fire off the remaining circles as soon as Edward was capable in order to maintain self preservation.

Hohenheim found himself unable to speak of what he was about to do, and with Edward watching him in patient wait for an answer he changed topics gracefully. "What will you do when you get back Edward?" Ed was not fooled, he didn't protest.

"Go see Alphonse." Ed's response was immediate. "Make sure he's okay." Ed's tone was relieved with just the thought of reuniting. "Make sure someone killed that bitch Dante. Make sure someone killed the homunculus." Ed was creating a list of work and Hohenheim chuckled. "Check on my teacher, she's been ill." Hohenheim left Ed's chest and moved to Ed's back.

Ed pulled his hair up into a pony tail and for a moment Hohenheim watched Ed's shoulder blades shift in a human form of plate tectonics until Ed replaced his arms. "Then once I do all that I'll go make sure I am still employed with the military. If I am okay, if I am not, that's fine too. I don't need it anymore." Hohenheim dragged the brush up the middle of Ed's spine and Ed's arm twitched with the tickle.


"Personally, I hope I am not. That way Alphonse and I can break away from all that and just take it easy for a while." Ed's demeanor was relaxing with thoughts of home and the rolling hills of Rizembool, and Hohenheim could visually see Ed's muscles easing. "That would be nice."

"And what about the man you spoke to?" Hohenheim asked, dipping his brush. "You won't see him?" He drew a fat line from beneath Ed's left shoulder blade to the one on his right.

"No I will," Ed said softly, before peeking back over his shoulder. "Are you…" Ed trailed off, but Hohenheim heard the meaning. Are you disappointed in me? For being gay? It sat on Ed's tongue for only a moment before he ripped it to shreds. "He said he moved from his position, which was a pretty nice rank so…" Ed signed heavily. "I'll have to go see what kind of trouble he's gotten himself into." Ed smiled and glanced back again. "Then, you know, demand some I-Finally-Crossed-From-One-Side-Of-The-Gate-To-The -Other-Sex." Hohenheim broke out laughing and set the paintbrush aside. "I am glad you laughed," Ed said, blushing.

"I did not expect that," Hohenheim confessed, still chuckling. "You're done." Ed went to move and Hohenheim stopped him. "Now stand still and dry Ed. You can't smudge that or I'll have to do it again."

Ed stood obediently half dressed and fanning his array painted chest with an optimistic smile like they were leaving for a party and not preparing to commit mass taboo. "And what will you do when I am gone Hohenheim?"

Hohenheim considered this. "I suppose I will leave this apartment and everything in it. Travel back into one of the larger cities and devote myself to the most controversial and preposterous scientific cause being developed in hopes I can fill the void you will create." He was honest and Ed's smile disappeared for a blooming look of emerging sadness. "You'll find in this world those theories developing under the rudest of remarks, are the ones which are accurate." He continued on this new topic. He didn't want Edward dwelling on the idea of a depressed old man and so offered the picture of a scientific one. An image he knew his son could stomach better. "I am sure I will have my hands full."

Ed did not look entirely convinced and his eyes held an uneasy stare that bordered ironically on a fear of neglect. "And what idea might that be?" Ed asked, sounding skeptical there was such a cause.

"Well there is a lot of nonsense about flying and entering outer space, and I think I'll take a look and see if any of it is worth helping."

"Outer…space?" Ed fumbled with the foreign expression. Hohenheim tapped the top of the array on Ed's chest and checked his finger for paint. It was dry.

"It is the name given to the atmosphere above the atmosphere we know," he explained. Ed's expression tightened with confusion. Amestris did not fly and had not developed any form of technology presenting the invitation nor practical application outside of the recreational hot air balloon.

"What do they want the space for?" Ed asked. "Is Germany too crowded?"

"It is the fascination with flight and propulsion. In this world it is definitely possible for man to fly. They've mastered it on several levels so now the concept is more or less focused on altitude." He said 'this' world and not 'the' world because it was best to let Amestris develop as it saw fit and not send Ed back with a brain full of wild aeronautic engineering. He checked Ed's back for wet paint and found it all sufficiently dry. "You're finished." Ed looked down at himself and stroked his palm over the array on his chest.

"Guess so."

"If you'll finish undressing you can come to the parlor when you're ready." Hohenheim expected some hesitation but Ed was immediately peeling himself free of the remainder of his clothing. Hohenheim left the boy stepping out of his pants and retrieved the small expensive item he'd purchased with the onions and frying pan. It would be all he would need. "Edward I left the small towel for you on the counter." He had kept the long and fat hunter's knife in his coat since that day. "Use that for some privacy son." With the knife he went to the center of the array and set it along side the most intricate sequence of paint strokes. Cradled amongst the elaborate swirls of paint and tiny markings the blade looked poetically misleading and almost incapable of its gruesome task

"Okay!" Ed answered, none the wiser. "But I just want to throw out there, that this place is rather cold!" Hohenheim sat down with a brief laugh and removed the vest he was wearing before rolling up his sleeves. He turned the cuffs back tightly so there was no chance of anything slipping when Ed's mismatched footfalls came to the entrance way and stopped prematurely. Hohenheim looked over inquisitively, but Ed was standing stiff and holding the towel to the front of his waist blushing. Bare and in broad daylight the scars about his arm and leg were prevalent. The overly smooth and false skin tones of his prosthetics seemed out of place, but the state of Ed's battered underweight body seemed not to bother him.

"Are you okay?" Hohenheim asked softly.

"I am embarrassed," Ed confessed, closing his eyes. "It's really cold here."

Hohenheim rose to his feet with a laugh and extended a hand. Ed immediately looked to Hohenheim's movement and Hohenheim realized he could read Ed's gaze. The sign within it told him Ed was seeking comfort, and seeking it from him.

"Don't worry," Hohenheim said kindly, taking a step forward. Ed came to him quickly. "In a moment I'll take your mind off your missing clothes." This was a sad confession and he situated Ed in the middle of the array and then gestured he lower. "Sit down." Ed sat rather gracelessly hanging onto the small towel for privacy and shivering with the cold. "And lay back." Hohenheim knelt at Ed's side and with his hand behind Ed's head guided him. The alignment had to be flawless, and Ed's head fell perfectly into the middle of what looked very much like a mirrored Celtic swirl. The black paint framed Ed's skull in dramatic curls with the mathematical lines of the circle cutting down the very center of it.

"Am I in the right spot?" Ed asked, staring up with a look of growing anxiety.

Hohenheim turned his gaze from the array to Edward's golden eyes. Somehow they seemed much larger and more full of life than Hohenheim remembered. They were bright with energy and seemed to reflect the entire room. It was realizing that in less than twenty years of life Edward, as an organism, had developed almost to full maturity, and now might die without ever reaching it, that was painful. Naked, cold, and on a poor man's wooden floor Ed would, in blind willing trust, lay still for the last blow of his life. This innocence, and overwhelming naivety of faith, dried Hohenheim's mouth and made his hands shake. "Yes," he whispered, barely able to speak. "You are in the right spot."

"Just tell me what I need to do, okay?" Ed asked, giving a quick nod seeking desperate reassurance this would work.

"Your prosthetics pose a small risk." Hohenheim moved his hand to Ed's false arm. "If you want to keep them, I'll let you." This was a lie. He would convince Ed to give them up, but first he would offer the choice.

"They won't come back with me?" Ed was miserable with the idea of losing his limbs yet again. "If they won't it's pointless. If my automail couldn't come through, it makes sense that these also won't equate and will be labeled undefined." Ed lifted his prosthetic arm the slightest inch and Hohenheim began unfastening it. "I just…" Ed sighed and closed his eyes for a moment of respite. "…I just hate losing them." Hohenheim moved the arm aside before helping to detach the leg. With Ed wearing nothing but the towel draped across his thighs Hohenheim let Ed unfasten the leather strap at his waist while unfastening the one on his thigh before moving the leg off the array with the arm. Hohenheim carried them both to the kitchen and briefly, almost oddly, the thought of what he would do with them after Edward departed crossed his mind.

Hohenheim returned quickly, with waves of curling nausea coming so strongly his hands were beginning to feel clammy and the sound of his heart was always in his ears.

Edward was where he was left, limbless and stranded clutching the small towel to his groin. "Question," Ed said, when Hohenheim returned to the room and walked slowly into the array. "That…intimidating large knife along side my head…" Ed glanced to the blade parallel his face. "What is it for?" Ed sounded as if he dreaded the answer, but also, as if a large part of him expected it.

"I am going to use it to activate the arrays." This was the most scientific way to put it.

Ed closed his eyes and gave a slow nod. Ed would have understood as much from reading the array. "Through my chest?" Ed asked shakily.

Hohenheim felt his mouth constrict the way only a human body does to cry, and quickly, he forced a sad smile. "Yes." Ed closed his eyes again before squeezing them tightly.

"The center of my chest?" Ed asked, voice beginning to tremble. "My lungs?"

Hohenheim could see Ed thinking quickly, and calculating how long he would be able to breathe with first a knife in his lungs, and then the puncture wound filling them with blood.

"No." Ed opened his eyes with a breath of relief. "Through your heart."

Ed swallowed heavily and tossed his head with the physical impact of this knowledge. "Shit," he choked. "So even if this doesn't work, I get fucked. You weren't kidding."

"If it comes to that," Hohenheim knelt along side Ed's right hip and lifted the knife, "I'll make it quick for you." On sight of the blade and the knowledge of its purpose Hohenheim watched Ed's body constrict. His golden eyes turned to the steel of the blade and his expression broke into one of great resolution and fear.

Inside, Hohenheim felt himself shutting down. His systems were coming to a crawl; his breathing became mechanically controlled and shallow. His mind was going numb and emptying into nothing but black space. For him to give his son what he wanted, he was temporarily discarding all of himself that would interfere. Carefully, in a slow movement, he adjusted himself up against Ed's hip and angled the knife an inch above Ed's heart. "I'll push slowly, so your endorphins begin kicking in, so your body will go into a state of alarm and take the necessary steps," he whispered.

Ed's eyes were three times their size and Hohenheim could see adrenaline already flooding out into his systems. The boy's color was becoming stronger and Ed's breathing was fast.

"Then," Hohenheim said softly, focusing to communicate the process as clearly as he could. "When I near your heart I will lean on the blade so it is fast. The knife needs to go through your front, out the back, and into the floor to hit the last array, do you understand?" This would necessitate the last blow be very strong so it could crush through Ed's chest cavity and bones.

Ed choked. "I am scared."

Gently Hohenheim stroked his hand up Ed's cheek. "Edward, for the last plunge I am going to use all of my strength to guarantee the knife penetrates the floor." He pet Ed's bangs from his forehead with affection. "You won't last long when the blade goes through your heart."

Ed was physically incapable of remaining still with the adrenaline in his system and the overwhelming anticipation. With Hohenheim's hand caressing his hair Ed struggled to keep himself in control so he could focus. "Is this going to kill me Hohenheim?"

"When you feel the transmutation, you'll know what to do. You'll react just as you've always done," Hohenheim reassured. "You know what to do Edward, you're an alchemist, and you won't falter." He had to pray this was the truth, but he spoke with intense conviction because he needed to hear and believe this as much as Edward did. "Make sure you get to the other side," he ordered. "Above all else Ed, you get to the other side, give whatever you have to." If Edward did not arrive in Amestris, and if he did not die in transit, then he would be trapped with neither world able to accept him and eventually rot inside the black hate filled stomach of the gate. "If you don't make it, I fear when I finally am able to join your mother again, she won't speak to me."

Ed choked the shaky laugh of someone in absolute terror. "I'll make it," Ed said weakly, before clearing his throat. "I'll make it." Ed sounded capable and began a continuing self assuring nod. "Don't sit around here thinking I won't. I am going back and I'll get there," Ed said firmly. Hohenheim adjusted his stance so he would have the upper body strength he would need. "If I-don't think less of me if I start crying," Ed said angrily, looking both scared and certain this would be the case.

"Have I ever before?" Hohenheim teased.

"Shut up—shut up," Ed snapped. "You know the nightmares were bad. I was watching them eat him," Ed said defensively. "It was eating him."

"I know son." Hohenheim placed his palm on Ed's chest and could sense Ed's heart. It felt as if a sparrow were trapped within Ed's rib cage, its wings beating frantically. "We're going to start, stay calm." He slid his hand down Ed's stomach to the towel. Ed gripped it instinctively before lifting his hand to relinquish it. Hohenheim took it politely and threw it off the array before replacing his hand on Ed's chest. "Now when you want to fight me," he said slowly, "and you will." This would be unavoidable. There would come a time with the blade embedded where Edward would not be entirely conscious of his every move and his body would respond to save itself and fight desperately. "Try and remember not to touch the knife. I don't want to slice you more than necessary."

Ed was pale as a ghost but nodded quickly. He was already going into a mental state of panic and in response his jaw had locked and his expression constricted so his lips were very thin and his eyes were growing pink. Desperately Ed's single hand tried to grip the floor at his side and Hohenheim wished they had the luxury of satisfying the timeless need to clutch something sturdy while enduring pain. The array felt like the loneliest place in the world, and with each of them planning to go their separate ways, there was an intense fear of separation and blemishing failure. Germany revered this mark as nothing more than paint on the floor, and although they were both alchemists, the haunting notion Germany's absolutes might be stronger than those of Amestris promised this to be a one time experiment. Science had taught them both never to move forward on blind untested faith, and yet here they were again. The epitome of repetitive history.

"All right." Hohenheim lowered the knife so the tip gently touched Ed's leaping chest and felt like a pin.

"Okay!" Ed cried, startling them both. "I can't handle it, cut me some, but don't push it in!" Ed's eyes rushed with tears, and he was near hyperventilation staring at the weapon on his chest.

"What?" Hohenheim felt railroaded with Ed's sudden outburst.

"The first cut!" Ed cried. "I am scared of the first cut!" Ed closed his eyes with his confession feeling humiliated he couldn't just lay still and take it, but the first cut was always the worst. "Just cut me some so I can feel it, I keep thinking it's going to stab right in! I just need to feel it some!" Ed broke into a fit of uncontrollable wiggling.

"Ed, I am not going to push straight through now," Hohenheim said firmly. "You need to pay close attention to how I am explaining this." How was it Ed did not understand!

"I did! I am!" Ed cried, turning his head to the side blinking back his tears. "I just need to…" Ed lifted his hand to the blade and Hohenheim startled. He tightened his grip, afraid Ed would try and take the knife, but with a shaking hand Ed took the blade carefully, so as not to cut himself, and tried to push it downward. Hohenheim fought this with confusion. Ed seemed in control although upset. Sniffling heavily Ed stared at the knife, as if transfixed by the blade, and Hohenheim let Ed guide it downward so it punctured, until Ed drew a thin bleeding line. "Okay." Ed dropped the knife's blade with fast exhales of relief. Immediately the intense panic was subsiding and Hohenheim watched Ed recover while puffing heavy laboring breaths. The first cut. "I needed that," Ed said, licking his lips uneasily. "Now you can do it." Ed tucked his flesh arm up against himself. "I am ready."

Hohenheim felt unprepared and tentatively lowered the blade so it punctured the small cut, but Ed didn't move. Focusing intently he took a deep breath, the last he realized he would take with Ed in this world, before pushing.

The knife slid in and hit bone and Ed's entire body jerked. With the stab Ed choked a grunting sound in his throat, but Hohenheim was not done. He added strength to the hilt and the knife began sinking inward with the sensation of slicing a thick solid ham. Almost instantly blood came to the surface of Ed's skin and it bled like a pin prick in a water balloon. The cut was severe.

Ed was doing all he could to remain composed. He closed his eyes tightly trying to focus on his breathing, but the knife was drilling down on his rib cage and like a steel rock chisel on ceramic. Hohenheim could see the middle of Ed's chest denting inward and he feared having to apply more pressure. He wanted it slow, but the danger of not inflicting the blow to break Ed's bones meant accidentally doing so, and accidentally stabbing his heart prematurely. In a desperate but controlled move, he lifted a hand and gave the bottom of the knife's hilt a strong solid pound as if trying to slap a screwdriver into place. The effect was the crunching sound of a walnut shell giving way to pressure. Ed buckled, as if from a bullet firing into his chest, and wanting the worst part over as quickly as possible, Hohenheim repeated the blow, and Ed's chest cavity cracked like a plate and the knife sunk in half an inch.

Ed's upper torso jerked with the puncture as if it were a hammer. Immediately Ed cried out, and his hand shot up and grabbed Hohenheim's arm. Ed arched his head back, Adam's apple bobbing, and tried to press Hohenheim's arm upward. Hohenheim was ready for it, and Ed's single arm was nothing but a slight inconvenience. "Ah stop!" Ed cried. "STOP!" Hohenheim grabbed Ed's jaw because the pitch and pain in Ed's voice was almost enough to stop him when he could not stop. "It's killing me!" Ed screamed. "It's killing me!" This was true, and Hohenheim imagined the pain was unbearable.

"You're doing so well Ed," Hohenheim whispered, eyes filling with tears. The pooling blood that had filled the growing crater of Ed's chest began leaking down. It cried red tears over Ed's single nipple and spilled onto the floor. A red river, spreading out like a root, ran down the center of Ed's abs and turned his belly button into a ruby.

Still Hohenheim pushed. With Ed's rib cage broken and the knife sinking in, there was no turning back. He jerked the knife forward as if forcing it against a stubborn piece of beef, and Ed screamed.

"Dad!" They were to the point where Ed was not entirely coherent. Tears were streaming down his face and his body was jerking and twitching spastically to the firing in his brain. Directly above Ed's beating heart Hohenheim held the knife. Ed's blood was running freely, like an open faucet from his chest, and it pooled up against Hohenheim's second hand and slipped under the pads of his fingers. It was warm in the way only the interior of the body was warm, and Hohenheim paused. Plunging a knife into someone's heart was still science, and he understood that the way the blade entered might mean Ed's immediate death, prolonged suffering, or the quick collapsing of his heart. There was no certainty to any of it, because he was not a surgeon, and Ed was not in surgery. He was half alive, with tears running silently down his cheeks and his body trying to save itself from death.

The circle wasn't lighting up yet, and Hohenheim was scared to keep going. What was left of his brain at this moment told him if he killed Ed here in the parlor and nothing happened, he would have to end it.

Ed tossed his head to the side and spit up a mouthful of blood. "It's not working!" Ed cried, eyes rolling back even as he struggled to look at the array. Hohenheim was astonished Ed's mental strength was keeping him aware while penetrated with the knife. "It's not working! It's not working dad! I am bleeding out! Fuck it! I am bleeding out!"

Hohenheim tightened his grip on the knife until his hand was shaking and his knuckles were white. It's not working dad, Ed's words felt like a cannon firing into the numb shell of the man he had become. The sound was immense, filing his head like a siren, and shaking him to the very last root. This had to work. Ed made him reach inside himself, into an empty sack, and force something to appear. If he had to give himself he would. If he had to give this world he would. "It will work!" he cried, lifting his elbow. "I will send you back!" He leaned on the knife, and it sunk straight though like a carving knife pressed into a bird. Ed's heart felt like a ripe avocado packaged inside his flesh and stored inside his ribs. It was nothing in comparison to the sharp weapon of man, and sliced through like a tomato spilling open and bleeding seeds.

Ed howled when the blade sunk into his heart. He began kicking but Hohenheim held the knife steady.

"This is it son," he whispered, leaning down to Ed's twisted crying expression. "Tell your brother I love him, and always remember…" Ed's eyes were painfully wide, but they were seeing him. The small boy he used to bathe, tuck in, and cuddle, was seeing him. "…I love you too." Hohenheim dropped his weight into the knife, and it plunged through Ed's broken rib cage and hit the floor like a nail being slapped into place. The height of his body fell with it. Hunched over he dropped to Ed's face and kissed just aside Ed's chapped, blood smeared lips, in a chaste intimate assault of only affection.

Ed went flailing when the knife impaled through his body, but Hohenheim knew Ed was there for the kiss, and before he lost the boy forever, he could not help himself.

The final blow choked a flood of blood down Ed's chin and sent his body jerking like a speared fish. The moment the third array was pierced all three exploded in a rush of color and wind. The gate came quickly and Hohenheim yanked back to his knees and away from Ed's top half. The doors flew open nearly the same time they landed and white blinding light filled the room. For a moment there was nothing, and Hohenheim felt the gate's surprise as if it were discovering what he'd done by reading the small print of his contract. It had to take Edward. In this fleeting moment of consideration the vacuum of the gate's stomach pulled Hohenheim's bangs forward so they fluttered about his cheek bones, and took Ed's from his forehead. Then, the small black hands ran out like worms because they were still eager to get what they came for.

Hohenheim pulled away from Ed's side, and Ed was either dead or on his way. Ed did not respond to the arrival of the gate, he lay sprawled in the blood leaking from his chest and spreading outward like a red cape. He stared lifelessly toward the ceiling, eyes drifting outward and becoming unseeing stones.

The gate's hands came greedily, swimming the length of Ed's body with curious desire, before attacking in perfect sequence. They latched on to what limbs were left, curled beneath Ed's chin, and swarmed the knife that had tethered Ed to Germany.

Yes, Hohenheim thought, watching the black arms wiggle about the knife like snakes. Pull it out, pull it free. Inside the array a few arms came to him, but they turned away with disgust. The gate did not want him, it was tired with him. Tired of his tricks and his travels, but yanked the knife from Ed's body and ate it. The moment it was uprooted Ed's eyes bulged as if his life force was suddenly stuffed back into him, and that was perhaps the truth of it. Ed returned to his bleeding punctured body like a ghost viewing out its eyes and for a nonsensical moment regained sight of the room and the tired looking scientist wearing blood and kneeling at his hip.

Hohenheim stared back when Ed's eyes came to him and he knew his son was alive again. "Goodbye Edward." He had barely enough time to speak these words before the gate sucked Ed inside and he was gone. It had yanked the boy off the knife and back to life, and Hohenheim was left in the blood-stained array-painted living room with nothing but a small hole in the floor where the blade had stabbed in. A foot in front of him was almost three quarts of Edward's blood, and in the vacant cold apartment Hohenheim sat on the floor and wept. He cried in hope, in happiness, and in truth, because the absoluteness of the world had proven to be more powerful than any of the gods he'd ever heard named. With the science he had dedicated his life to he was able to kill and revive his son in almost the same moment, and he believed Ed would find his way back to Alphonse. With overwhelming relief and gratitude he cried, and with painful confusion he tried to ignore why he still felt the absence of his sons and his wife, and why science could not fill that absence.

Edward Elric the Fullmetal Alchemist was found in a fountain square in Lior, and for several days was in a hospital bed unmarked and unnamed until he found consciousness. The boy rose suddenly, in the middle of a sponge bath, and while demanding to know the date, and shoving the nurse away from his wet, naked, and bruised body screamed out, "I am the Fullmetal Alchemist! Get me a goddamn phone!" As a result half a hospital wing learned before anyone else the Alchemist of the people had been found.

News spread fast, with the undercurrent of a rumor, to a small town with rolling hills, a busy military building in Central, and a small local meat shop in Dublith. By nightfall the incoming trains brought visitors and officers who wanted to see the rumored person who claimed to be the Fullmetal Alchemist, but this unnamed individual was sealed in intensive care.

The town of Lior was not equipped with the high tech resources Central had, and the medical staff was cautious. The hospital, a three story building with two hundred and forty beds, was also not ready to handle the type of excitement the suggested discovery of one long lost alchemist could bring. Nursing staff was thin, and the simple need to continuously turn away potential visitors, news reporters, and odd snooping individuals became old quickly.

Of the three head nurses, the longest standing took charge of the situation. She had a gruff voice, and had made her life cleaning up bodily spills, soothing bleeding wounds, and delivering children. She manned the front reception desk like a brigadier, and mercilessly told lingering bodies to clear the small lobby and find hotel rooms. She was not won over with the complimentary lunch one reporter brought in around noon, or the small wad of cash another tried to slide across the counter beneath a stray clipboard. She turned way an endearing looking woman with dreadlocks and her bull of a husband even though they seemed emotionally concerned and said they were like family, without batting an eye.

The nursing staff took solace in her, and it was not until late the first evening, with the sun sweeping in through the large front hospital windows that a young blonde boy in a blood red coat came running in. He appeared frantic, and the nurses were ready. The two younger backed away from the front desk and the lead nurse took the front lines. The boy didn't look a day over twelve, and threw his hands down on the counter when he arrived and asked, just like everyone else, to see the Fullmetal Alchemist. Then, unlike the rest, when he was denied, he stepped back mute. His expression was that of overwhelming sadness, and before the head nurse could advise he find a hotel room or return to his mother, he started crying.

Working in a hospital, the nurses on staff had seen lots of crying children. Over the years perhaps hundreds or even thousands, and not one of them compared to his boy. He broke into a shameless desperate cry, as if the Fullmetal Alchemist had died, and he was too late.

The nurses took pity on him. He was led away from reception and into the back halls. Other visitors didn't see him again.

When Hawkeye arrive at almost nine that night, she was also advised a hotel was more appropriate until Doctor's cleared visitation. Although Hawkeye did not break into tears, she was not as quick to leave as others. She asked pointed questions, and inquired as to when the Doctor would next evaluate the boy she simply referred to as Edward. The nurses refused to comment, protecting patient confidentiality, but did share that the Doctor would return late that night.

Hawkeye decided to wait. She called Havoc, who had taken the train in with her, and asked him to pick up dinner. They ate in the lobby, and afterward Havoc fell asleep in the chair at her side. She was left alone with her book, much as she had been during the train ride. She was reading the latest Central best selling mystery, and ignored all the activity around her. The only thing she acknowledged was the sound of the main door opening. Each time a new party arrived, she glanced up. She swept the new individual with her eyes, and returned with indifference to her book. The reporters were a bit relentless and she felt bad for the hospital staff. For the most part they seemed unprepared and timid when it came to being rude and telling young pushy story-chasers what-for. They relied on one senior nurse, and she was growing tired and wanted desperately to go home, take a bath, and feed her cat.

Near midnight, Hawkeye glanced up from her book to the sound of the main door opening and did not lower her eyes. Rather than sweeping this visitor in that quick soldier glance, she stared. She knew she would be unnoticed as the new visitor made his way to main reception. She knew his focus would be consumed while he asked for the Fullmetal Alchemist, and the nurses again, would repeat the mantra no visitors were allowed while looking irritated and overworked.

He was far more humble than she remembered him, like a roaring fire which had become a small content flame. There was something peaceful about him now, something resigned and patient in a place where before he was always barking for a bigger bone.

He thanked the nurses kindly, and turned around from reception to look for a lobby chair.

Their eyes met.

She knew he would come.

…Curtain Falls…

A thousand thank-yous for reading my humble story – This is the end, and I sincerely hope you enjoyed it.

Before you come to worry I will post a single Epilogue. It will be posted next Friday 5/17/13, and those small parting words will be the absolute conclusion.

As many of you know, voting has closed on which story will be posted next, and "Foolish For You" is the winner. (Foolish For You and Big Bang Theory were neck and neck this past week and all night! Thank you all for voting!) Story descriptions are available in my profile, and "Foolish For You" will kick off June, posted the very first Friday 6/7/13. I will be honored to see you there for Chapter 1: Pique My Curiosity

Now, to all of you who just completed this chapter, and this story, you owe it to yourself (and me of course) to leave one final review. It took an immense amount of time and effort to write this for you ~ please repay in kind.

Leave evidence you were here. Comment in the box below. : ) It has been my honor to have you. I'll see you all for the Epilogue.