“Stupid chimera,” Edward muttered under his breath, unfurling his red coat with a sharp snap of whipping fabric. Laid out on the ground, the garment looked as if it had been almost reduced to one great mass of shreds and tatters—damage left by the teeth and claws of a mutant beast the Elrics had just battled.
Massaging a bruised shoulder, Alphonse glanced at the lifeless body of the chimera that lay several paces away. “At least it worked, Brother. If you hadn’t distracted it with your coat, Noa and I would have been in big trouble.”
As Ed knelt down, he tilted his head toward Noa, who stood observantly beside him. “I got the idea from her world. They use the same trick on angry bulls there. Some idiots’ idea of a sport.”
“Everything you tell me about the other side of the Gate just makes me more glad I never wound up there…” Al’s grimace of distaste changed to a warm smile at Noa. “And more glad you’re here now. Even knowing what you used to be, and all you went through, I can’t imagine you belonging in a world like that.”
A faint blush heated Noa’s cheeks. “I’m not sure I ever really did.”
Ed glanced over his shoulder at that, regarding Noa thoughtfully. Perhaps Al noticed the fleeting look, because he let his hands fall to his sides and stepped forward.
“I think I’ll go make sure the rest of the chimeras are being handled right. We don’t want any more of them getting loose.”
Upon receiving a curt nod of acknowledgement from his brother, Al moved off through the forest, heading for the illegal alchemy lab they had just raided. A detail of soldiers was back there, rounding up a menagerie of chimeric beasts for transport back to Central. The men undoubtedly had the scene well in hand; but of course, Al would want to oversee the creatures’ handling anyway. He was an accomplished specialist in the care and treatment of chimeras now, after all.
As Al disappeared between the trees, Noa knelt down beside Ed, and with a wry smile she reached out to help straighten the shreds of his coat. “Here. It’s pretty bad this time—I think this one is ready for a replacement.”
“I guess you’re right. There’s still enough material to patch it together until we get back to Central, though.”
Given the roughhousing he was prone to become involved in, Edward had gone through several coats over the years, using alchemy to repair them for as long as possible. Yet although he had grown and matured, and the clothes he wore underneath were different now, each new coat was as scarlet as the first—and always emblazoned with a black cross and serpent between the shoulders.
“Why do you still wear the flamel cross?” Noa asked softly, after a long moment.
Taken somewhat by surprise, Ed glanced up to meet her steady, pensively curious gaze. His shoulders shifted uncomfortably, and he hesitated before answering. “Well… I guess for the same reason Al still keeps it on his armor. It’s our alchemy teacher’s crest.”
Noa shook her head gently. After the things they had shared on the other side of the Gate, he could never deceive her.
“It’s more than that.” She studied his face. “It still represents Asclepius’ staff to you, doesn’t it?”
Ed suppressed a rueful sigh. Of course, from the exchange of memories in their past, Noa knew that myth—and she knew exactly what it meant to him. He gave a surrendering shrug and stared down at the flamel. Unlike most of the coat, it was only slightly damaged.
“It’s the story of a guy who had the arrogance to think he could raise the dead, and paid the price for it… when he should have been using the power he had to help others.” Ed looked up at Noa. “I can’t forget what Al and I did—but it isn’t about that any more. Ever since you sent me back from the other side, the most important part of my work has been to teach other alchemists the consequences of human transmutation.”
His gaze fell back to the symbol on the fabric. Flesh fingers brushed lightly across it, and his eyes hardened with determination.
“That’s what this stands for now. It reminds me of the responsibility I have to give others that lesson.”
“I see,” Noa said quietly after a moment, and Ed glanced up to see that her gaze was lowered, solemnly regarding the flamel.
He hesitated. “But if you don’t like it—”
“I never said that.” Noa smiled wanly. “It’s just… when I see it, I think of a different story. One from the world I came from.”
“What story is that?” Ed asked her. Just as Noa shared his knowledge, he also remembered the world beyond the Gate through her eyes, but it could be difficult to single out some pieces of information on demand.
“About a man named Moses, who was sent to lead his people out of slavery.” Her expression grew thoughtful as she recalled it. “They had to travel through a great wilderness. When the journey was long and hard, the people became ungrateful for their freedom and complained against God, so He sent deadly serpents among them as punishment. Then Moses prayed for their forgiveness, and God told him to create a symbol of the thing that afflicted them. So Moses made a bronze serpent, and raised it up on a rod… and everyone who looked on it was healed.”
There was a long moment’s silence between the couple. Edward stared down at the flamel cross, thinking of the serpent staff in a way he never had before; and at last he raised his eyes to Noa’s, as a gentle smile spread over his face.
“I like that way of looking at it,” he said warmly, and drew her into his arms, resting his forehead against hers.
© 2012 Jordanna Morgan