When they meet Marcoh, Edward feels something like hope flutter in his chest. He doesn’t say anything, because Al is right next to him, and not for the first time he wonders how his mother managed this. It probably helped that he and Al spent most of their days out playing, or in their father’s study.
Finally there’s a minute where they’re alone and Edward grabs Marcoh’s arm and says, “That stone – what can it heal, exactly?” Because complete stone or not, if he has a chance to solve half of his problem right here, he’ll take it.
The old man’s eyebrows rise to his forehead, and he looks like he already knows the answer when he goes, “Why do you ask, Edward?”
There's no metallic footsteps so there’s no way Al’s close enough to hear them. “I’m sick,” he admits after another moment of deliberation.
She can’t have known it was genetic. She would have told them, told Granny at least. Warned Ed for what was coming for him.
Just like Trisha, he doesn’t look sick. Just like his mother, he’s dying slowly. She was in her mid-twenties before she started showing symptoms – Ed doesn’t think much of his father, but even he doesn’t think Hohenheim would have left if he’d known his wife was dying. Ed’s a lot younger than that, only sixteen. But Trisha lived a simple, healthy life in the countryside. He puts his body through a lot more stress than she ever did hers, which he thinks is why it’s giving out on him so much sooner.
She couldn’t have known. This is what Edward tells himself, every time he can’t catch his breath, every time he twinges with a pain he can’t explain. There’s no way she could have known. She would have told them. Told him. Told someone. She couldn’t have known.
Ed repeats it to himself silently, the closest he’s ever come to praying, on nights when he can’t find sleep, when his limbs burn and there’s vomit in the back of his throat but he can’t move because his little brother is lying in the bed across from him.
Nights like those, he’s almost grateful Al’s in the armor.
Granny had picked up on it right away. Had seen the subtle sluggishness of his body, the way his breathing was a little too controlled. She probably would have dismissed it as remnants of his latest skirmish but – she’d seen it before.
“Does Al know?” she asks him, the back of her hand pressed to his forehead. He doesn’t have a fever, but neither did Mom. Not until the end.
He doesn’t insult her by pretending to misunderstand. This right here is most of the reason he’d avoided coming back to Resembool. “No.”
“Hm,” Pinako bites down on the end of her pipe hard enough that it creaks, “He won’t thank you for this, you know. When he finds out.” And he will, her silence adds on.
Ed remembers coming home and finding his mom prostrate on the ground, remembers frantically searching for her pulse with one hand and smacking the other over his brother’s eyes. They screamed when they found her. They screamed so hard and so loud that their throats were sore for days.
“No,” Ed agrees, “he won’t.”
Al doesn’t have a throat anymore. He can still scream.
It started a year ago, just a few days after he turned fifteen. It was dizziness at first, he wouldn’t have thought anything of it, but Al’s trying to tell him about an alchemy book and he doesn’t want to worry him so he leans against the back of a chair, curling his fingers around the top of it and forcing his grimace into a smile even as black spots dance in front of him. Even that wouldn’t have been enough, but he glances down.
He sees the white knuckled grip he has on the chair, and unbidden he thinks of when he was small, when his head was the level of this chair, and looking curiously at his mother’s white knuckled grip that she had on the kitchen counter as they told her about their day – he doesn’t remember what they did. But he remembers that grip, remembers seeing it and dismissing it. His smile freezes, but Al doesn’t notice, thank god.
He sneaks away to a doctor not long after that, and they confirm that he has – something. They don’t know what. They don’t think it’s serious. They blame stress, prescribe rest.
Ed wonders if this is what they prescribed his mother. If she did her best to listen to doctors until she realized there was no point.
It’s not all the time. Of course it’s not all the time, if it was he’d be dead by now. Sometimes he’s just tired, sometimes he’s dizzy. Other times its pain that doesn’t seem to have a source but throbs so powerfully he wants nothing more than to curl up in a ball and weep. There are days he can’t keep food down, when it takes everything he has to stop himself from shaking where Al can see it.
Al’s not a doctor. There’s no reason for Al to know – it will only worry him. Besides, when they get the stone Ed will heal himself and Al’s body too, so there’s nothing to worry about.
He greets sixteen by hiding in the corner of a library where Alphonse won’t think to look for him, a coughing fit so intense that his ribs hurt and he’s lightheaded. When it finally stops he pulls his hand from his mouth and his white gloves are stained with blood.
He doesn’t remember this happening to Mom. He’d been counting down the time he had left by comparing his illness to his mom’s, but if he’s got blood in his lungs –
Well. It looks like he has less time than he thought.
Marcoh can’t heal him.
He could try, but since they don’t know the cause, only symptoms, it wouldn’t end well. A general application of alchemy to his body may heal him, or it may kill him.
“Don’t worry about it,” Ed claps a hand on his back, grinning, “I’ll figure something else out.”
“I’m sorry,” he says, shoulders hunched and miserable.
Edward only shakes his head. “We’re not gods, Doctor. It’s all right.”
For some reason, Marcoh looks even more bereft after that. Before he can question him about it, Alphonse throws the door open.
They can’t make a philosopher’s stone. He had the opportunity right in front of him, and he didn’t take it. Couldn’t take it.
He’s dying. He’s dying, and even if they find a philosopher’s stone he won’t use it.
For the first time he’s glad that he’s in the habit of writing his notes in code. That Al doesn’t care enough to break his code, since he knows he can ask Ed about his research and he’ll share everything. When he starts working out a different sort of alchemy circle, when he starts figuring out his worth in terms of alchemical energy, he’s glad that no one will be able to read it.
He’ll do better than Marcoh. He’ll burn his notes before he performs the transmutation – this isn’t a knowledge that desperate, dying people should have.
He considers leaving the military. He doesn’t need anything they have, but – the military gives good death benefits. He’s amassed a small fortune over the years, enough that Al and Winry should be able to live comfortably for many years on it, if not a lifetime then close to it.
As a State Alchemist, he’s given a very generous salary and research budget. Tucker had been able to afford a mansion, and he hadn’t had half the reputation or clout that Ed did. And over the past four years, Ed’s spent almost none of it.
His travel, lodging, and food is usually reimbursed by the military if he’s on assignment. He’s nearly always on assignment. Mustang told him at some point last year that he’d amassed over two months of paid leave, if he wanted to use any of it. He didn’t. They don’t buy things not really, nothing they can’t carry. His automail and the occasional bribe to get information is about all his spending, so he’s got – he doesn’t know, he doesn’t keep track, a lot. But Al will get another lump sum from his death if he’s still in the military, plus some other benefits that he’s not totally clear on.
He frowns and taps his pen against his notebook. Next time they’re in Central he’ll figure out the rest of this stuff.
He doesn’t tell Hughes anything about Lab Five. For the first time the man almost looks angry at him, but Ed stands his ground. Those things didn’t die in the lab, which means they’re still out there.
This is something else he has to figure out before he dies, another thing he has to take care of. His to do list is getting longer, and his life span is only getting shorter. It’s with this in mind he tells Al he has to go to the bathroom, and instead phones the one woman he really, really never wanted to talk to about this. “Hey Teacher,” he breaths down the line. As much as he doesn’t need to lose another mother, she doesn’t need to lose another son, and he’s sorry he’s doing this. But he needs help. His voice is a little off from a coughing fit he’d had earlier, so he swallows before he continues, “How do you get the taste of blood out of your mouth? I’ve tried mints, but it just – stays there, congealing in the bottom of my throat. Gargling is better, but it’s not very subtle, if you know what I mean.”
She’d taken in a sharp breath like she was preparing to yell at him, but she lets it out by the end. “What the hell did you do, kid?” Her voice is scolding and soft, that ever present current of anger sparking underneath it.
“For once, this one isn’t on me,” he murmurs, and he has to hurry this up if he doesn’t want Al getting suspicious. “There’s some sort of creepy immortal monsters running around. Want to help me kill them? I bet it’ll be fun.”
“I’m dying, Edward,” she tells him, like he’s blind, like he and Al haven’t already watched one mother sicken and die before them.
Ed leans his head against the cool glass of the phone booth and doesn’t bother to hold back his smile. “Funny story, so am I. Personally, I’d like to go out with a bang. What about you?”
She hangs up on him. He writes up everything he knows about the homunculi in code and sends it to Dublith.
Two weeks later there’s a report of a skirmish at an old alchemist’s home. He lived alone, but three bodies were found in the burnt wreckage.
He gets a note that still smells of smoke in the mail: Two down. Your turn.
Ed bites back a grin and tucks the note in the lining of his suitcase. He wonders if she told Sig what she was doing. He wonders if he should tell Alphonse.
Probably. He won’t, though.
On one hand, sharing the truth with Izumi is freeing in a way he hadn’t anticipated. They’re both at death’s door, and it allows a level of ease that Ed hadn’t managed with Granny. Teacher suggests honey lozenges for when he spits up blood. He calls her one day, more tired than usual after a night spent trying to hide his pain from Al. He’s sitting in the bottom of the phone booth because it hurts too much to stand. “What’s with you?” she demands eventually. “Have you killed the palm tree one yet? I hate him.”
“Working on it,” he mumbles, “I had muscle spasms all night. I’m exhausted.”
“Poor baby, with your little muscle spasms,” she mocks, and he snorts, “I get migraines so bad I can’t open my eyes without vomiting.”
“Sounds like you’re a wimp,” he returns, “Last week I fought a chimera while my lungs were acting up. Half that fight I couldn’t even see I was so close to passing out.”
“Must be a Tuesday,” she says, and he laughs.
There’s silence after that. This isn’t the first time they’ve played this game, but every time he feels a little lighter. “Teacher,” he says, rubbing a hand against his chest, “have you – have you thought about what’ll happen when you die?”
“I’ll be buried next to my son. Sig will plant white lilies on my grave,” she answers immediately, and that wasn’t what he meant. Before he can clarify she asks, “What about you?”
He blinks. There won’t be anything left of him to bury, but – “Sunflowers,” he says, “I think I’d like sunflowers.”
It doesn’t matter. Funerals are for the living, not the dead, Al and the rest of them can do whatever the hell they want, it doesn’t matter. But when Teacher says, “Sunflowers it is,” he feels inexplicably better anyway.
He kills the palm tree looking one a month later. It doesn’t happen without cost, and he’s probably chopped a couple more months off his lifespan. He’s in Mustang’s office, trying to give his report in a way that won’t give anything away about the homunculi, or the stone. He’s so focused on it that he doesn’t notice when his vision starts to go black, or when his knees buckle. He doesn’t notice until he’s tipped against Mustang’s chest, the man’s hands bruising his arms to keep his upright. “Fullmetal! Fullmetal, wake up!”
“I’m awake,” he says, but doesn’t push away just yet. The pins and buttons of his jacket are pressing against Ed’s cheek in a way that isn’t particularly pleasant, but Mustang’s chest is almost comfortable. He’s not that much taller than Ed, not really, and Ed’s head is resting just below his chin. Mustang puts an arm around his waist and tips him back until he can see his face. Mustang’s eyes are wide, almost scared, and Ed tries to force a smile. They’re dark eyes, he knew that, but he always thought they were brown. But he can see that they’re actually blue, a blue so dark they’re black. “Your eyes are like the night sky.”
“What’s wrong?” he bites off his glove and presses his hand to Ed’s forehead. Ed knows he doesn’t have a fever. When he gets a fever, that’s his sign to end it. He won’t survive that fever – his mother didn’t, after all. “Were you hurt on the mission? Damnit Fullmetal, we need to get you to a hospital.”
He grabs Mustang’s wrist. “Don’t.”
“You can’t even stand, Fullmetal,” he snarls.
Ed carefully pushes away, takes a step back and forces his shaking legs to keep him upright. He holds out his arms, “See? I’m fine, don’t worry about it.”
“Stop lying to me,” he snaps, stalking close enough to catch Ed if he falls again but not actually touching him. “You’ve always dealt in half-truths, Fullmetal, but recently all you’ve said is lies. You’re lying to me, to Hughes, and who knows who else. I’m tired of it!”
“Everybody else,” he says, and doesn’t smile only because he can’t tell if the liquid in his mouth is saliva or blood. “I’m lying to everybody. Don’t take it personally, Colonel.”
“Does Alphonse know?” he asks, and Ed really wishes people would stop asking him that.
He shakes his head, “You’re not going to tell him either.”
“Tell him what?” he asks reflexively, “I don’t know anything!”
“Good,” he smiles and Mustang doesn’t recoil, so he assumes there’s no blood on his teeth. “Let’s keep it that way.”
He walks out of the office. Mustang doesn’t stop him.
Ed completes the array on a Tuesday. It’s, without a doubt, the most complicated and beautiful array he’s ever made. The geometrical and symbological combination to ensure Al’s body returns healthy and sickness-free is impressive enough all on its own that he should get a library named after him or something. It’s his pinnacle as an alchemist, the result of sheer genius, months of effort, and years of experience and knowledge.
He takes all his notes, all his half-finished equations, the array itself, and burns them all.
His one regret is that he won’t be able to feel Al’s skin again, see his smile, his eyes. But maybe that sacrifice is part of the equivalent exchange.
“They’ve gone into hiding,” Izumi says down the line, her voice raspy like she’s coughed up half her internal organs. For all Ed knows she has. “I can’t find a trace of the bastards. You?”
“Nothing,” he sighs. He’s having a good day, he almost feels normal. Healthy. “On one hand that’s a good thing. On the other, well.”
“We’re dying,” she finishes, “and if we don’t finish this, someone else will have to.”
Ed rubs the back of his neck. “This sucks. I should be – I don’t know, what do dying people normally do? Backpacking across Drachma or something. Instead I’m here dealing with this shit.”
“Backpacking across Drachma might be a bit difficult,” she allows, “but – go do something you’ve never done. The homunculi aren’t going anywhere.”
“That’s the problem,” he grumbles. “Like what?”
There’s that affection in her voice again this time, the one that reminds him of his mother, “Why don’t you go an act your age for once? You’re sixteen – go to a pub. Have a drink.”
He makes a face, “I’ve been legally able to drink since I was twelve, Teacher. Comes with signing your life away to the government.”
“Have you?” she asks.
Well – no. He hasn’t. “I’ve been busy,” he says instead.
“You’ll always be busy,” she says, “and you’re running out of time. Go get a drink, Edward.”
He goes and gets a drink. He tells Al that he’s going for a walk, that he needs time to think. Al nods and tells him to have fun, but somehow still manages to convey he’s disappointed, and something clenches in Ed’s chest. He only has a limited amount of time to spend with his brother, he shouldn’t be wasting it, but – he’d told Teacher he’d go to a pub. One drink, he promises himself as he tugs on the ribbon of Al’s helmet, one drink and he’ll come back to be with his brother.
He decides against the first few he walks past, they’re too noisy, too busy. There’s one tucked into the corner of a side street, one with dirty windows and more empty chairs than patrons. He steps inside. He’d flash his watch, but he’s in Central, there’s no point. Everyone here knows who he is. “What’ll it be?” the bartender asks, a hulking man than reminds him of Sig.
Ed glances over the line of bottles and shrugs. “Something you think I won’t hate,” he decides on finally, and the man’s teeth are startlingly white against his skin when grins.
“Sure thing, kid,” he turns and starts mixing things in metal cup, and Ed leans his elbows on his bar and tries not to think about much of anything.
“Ed?” a familiar voice says, and Ed’s shoulders tense and he wishes he’d come anywhere but here. He seriously can’t catch a break. Maes Hughes sits down next to him, and this is the first time he’s seen the man since he refused to tell him anything about Lab Five. “What are you doing here?”
“I am of age,” he points out crossly, like it even matters.
Because the world is truly against him, Mustang settle down on his other side. “Picking up a new vice, Fullmetal?”
“Yeah, I’m running low on them,” he glares, and considers just walking out of there when the bartender places a bright red drink in front of him. “If this is just grenadine, you’re going to be wearing this drink.”
Maes barks out a laugh. The bartender raises an eyebrow, “It’s a Fourth Regiment. Try it.”
Ed takes a sip. It’s strong, but sweet, and its burns his throat pleasantly as it goes down, washing away the feeling of blood clinging to his insides along with it. “It’s good,” he says, wiping his mouth. “Thanks.”
“Anytime, kid,” he winks at him before going to serve an elderly man down the line.
Ed slumps against the bar top, sipping at his drink and wondering if he can make the two men leave by sheer force of will.
No such luck.
“Seriously Ed,” Maes twist sidewise to look at him, a tumbler of golden liquor in his hand, “What brought you here?”
He shrugs, “I’ve never had a drink before.”
He hopes Maes will let it lie, will leave, but instead he just gulps down the rest of his glass and says, “Well we can’t let you do it alone. That’s just depressing.” Mustang sighs but doesn’t protest. One drink turns to three, and Edward is pleasantly buzzed by the time they leave the bar. Hughes hadn’t brought up Lab Five, or anything like it, and Mustang hadn’t made any snarky comments that made Ed want to hit him. It was almost nice.
“You take him home,” Maes says, “I’ve got a wife and kid to get back to.”
“Hughes,” Mustang says in warning.
Ed shakes his head. He’s tipsy, not drunk, not really. “I can get home fine myself. The hotel’s only a few blocks away from here.”
“Then it won’t be a big deal for Roy to walk you back,” Maes hits them both on back with enough force that they both stagger, and Ed has to place his hands on Mustang’s chest to keep from crashing into him. He can feel Mustang’s pulse under the thin material of his civilian clothes. His heart’s beating too fast. “Are you okay?” he asks, looking up at him. They’re probably standing too close.
“Fine, thank you,” he steps back, “Let’s get you home.” They walks side by side, their elbows almost touching. Ed should probably be annoyed that Mustang knows where their staying, more of the man’s spying, but he’s still not exactly sober. Besides, it’s not like he isn’t aware that his commanding officer is a giant control freak. “Was that really your first drink?”
Ed blinks and looks up at him. They’re almost to his hotel. “Yeah. I mean I haven’t really had the time to – you know, do normal teenage stuff.”
“Is there some reason you think you’re running out of time?”
He smiles and ducks his head, and maybe before he would have yelled, would have puffed up and caused a scene. But impending mortality has a way of putting things in perspective. “We’re all running out of time, Colonel.” They stop in front of the hotel, and he adds, “Thanks for the escort.”
He’s already turned around, already grabbed the handle to pull the door open when Mustang says, “I’m worried about you, Edward.”
“Don’t be,” he says, but doesn’t turn around because he’s not that good of a liar. “I’m fine.”
He steps inside, pulling the door shut behind him.
Edward’s lying on his bed pretending to read while doing his best to keep down his dinner. He hasn’t been successful the past two days, and considering they’re hunting some sort of serial killer he’d prefer to go into this fight with at least one meal in his stomach.
He does his best not to jump. He hadn’t noticed Al coming in the room, damnit. He hasn’t turned a page in at least ten minutes. “Yeah?”
There’s the scraping sound that means Al’s shuffling his feet against the wooden floor. He bets if he looked over he’d be twisting his hands over his apron. “Are you feeling okay?”
“Course,” he turns to Al, makes himself look honestly confused, “Why, is something wrong?”
“Uh – no. I guess not,” Al shifts his weight from foot to foot. This isn’t really a conversation Ed wants to have on his back holding a book above his face, but he’s not certain he could sit up right now without barfing everywhere. No way would Al buy he was okay after that. “You’ve just seemed, well. You didn’t eat a lot at dinner.”
“I didn’t?” he scrunches up his face, “I didn’t notice. I’ll eat enough for three people tomorrow if it’ll make you feel better.” He throws a too-wide grin in his brother’s direction.
Al doesn’t answer. Instead in a clamor of metal hitting metal hitting wood he sits next to Ed’s bed, back to him with his knees pulled to his chest. “You’ve been getting sick a lot.”
Shit, shit, shit. “Oh, come on Al,” his hand lands too heavy and clumsy on top of Al’s helmet, “We’re running around in the North. I’m lucky all my limbs haven’t frozen off! Not all us can be resilient as you.” He twists to nudge Al’s shoulder with his knee, and makes sure his face of blank of the agony that’s his stomach ripping itself to shreds when Al turns his head to look at him. “You worry too much.”
The tension in Al’s body lets out slowly, and Ed is so relived he doesn’t even have to force his smile. “I do not! You never tell me anything.”
“Don’t be silly, Al. I tell you everything.”
The muscle spasms are getting worse. He really doesn’t remember this happening to Mom. Then again, if he’s managed to hide this from Al, then his mother likely hid it from them. Al’s been sticking to him closer than usual since the North, and on one hand he treasures every second he can get with his brother, because he doesn’t think he has long left. But on the other hand it makes the part of where he’s sneaking around and lying to him very difficult.
So instead of going to straight to Mustang’s office to report about the serial killer, like he told Alphonse he would, he takes a detour to a payphone. “Not Winry, not Winry, not Winry,” he chants down the line.
Maybe he has some luck left because a rattling old voice answers, “Rockbell Automail.”
“Granny,” he breathes out.
“Edward,” she says, her voice pulled between relief and anger, “You’re still alive then.”
He leans back against phone booth. There’s a migraine looming behind his eyes, but for the most part he feels okay. “More or less. That’s what I wanted to talk to you about, actually.”
“Have you told Alphonse yet?”
Ed rolls his eyes. “No, now I don’t have much time,” Granny makes a sound almost like a gasp that he knows she didn’t want him to hear, and he winces because he’s meant that Mustang is expecting him, not – that. “I mean – look, did Mom get muscle spasms? Like a lot of them?”
“How many are you getting Ed?” she asks sharply, “Are they in your back?”
The urgency and fear in her voice answers all his questions. “Not yet,” he says honestly, “Look, thanks Granny, I’ve got to go.” He can hear her calling his name when he hangs up the phone. He gives himself exactly forty five seconds to feel guilty about what he’s doing to her, then thirty seconds to be terrified about the new ways his body is going to fail him. Then he takes a deep breath and marches to Mustang’s office like nothing has happened.
“Fullmetal,” he says when Ed stomp kicks the door shut closed behind him. “You’ve lost weight.”
“Got to keep my girlish figure,” he scoffs and bounces down on the couch, laying back and throwing an arm over his eyes as much to piss Mustang off as to stave off the pressure steadily building in the back his skull. “Should I make a report, or do you want to just tell me what I did?” Mustang stays silent, and irritation almost makes Ed jump to his feet and yell at him. But if he gets in a shouting match now he’ll spend the next two days fighting off a migraine. “Mustang, contrary to your personal beliefs, I’m a busy person, so –”
There’s a bare hand on his forehead, and he startles so badly that he nearly clocks Mustang in the face when he swings his arms down. “You don’t have a fever,” he murmurs.
Ed should push him away, but instead he lays their frozen while Mustang crouches at his side and gently rubs his thumb against the side of Ed’s temple. It sooths away some of the ache, and he tells himself that’s the reason he doesn’t move. “Of course I don’t,” he croaks finally, unable to push Mustang away, “Why would I?”
“I thought you’d come back better,” he says quietly, and there’s something almost like grief in the older man’s face, “I thought – I don’t know what I thought.” Mustang sighs and rests his head against the arm of the couch, so close that if Ed shifted the tiniest bit they’d be touching. “I’m worried about you.”
Mustang isn’t looking at him. All Ed can see of him is his bowed head, and his almost too-warm hand still against his skin. If Mustang was looking at him, Ed wouldn’t say anything, or he’d laugh it off. But he’s not so Ed says, words heavy with a defeat he wasn’t planning on, “I wish everyone would stop saying that.”
“But we are,” he says, “Ed, I know something is wrong. If you can’t talk to me, or Al, tell someone. Maes, that Rockbell girl, someone!”
“Someone already knows,” he sighs, “My alchemy teacher, and old lady Pinako. They both know, okay? So you can stop worrying about me. There’s nothing to worry about.”
“Edward,” he still doesn’t look at him, like he knows the moment he does this spell will be broken and Ed will refuse to breath another word.
Maybe he should tell him. Mustang could certainly help him sort out all the military paperwork to make sure Al is taken care of. He almost does it, opens his mouth to do it, but –
He grabs Mustang’s hand from his forehead and squeezes it. “You worry too much. Look, it’s nothing that will last, okay? Everything’s going to be fine.”
He’s not technically lying, so when Mustang finally looks him in the eye, searching for any signs of deceit, he doesn’t find any. “At least get some sleep,” he says. Mustang’s bottom lip is red and puffy like he’d been biting at it, and Ed feels something clench in his chest, something that isn’t quite pain.
“I’m trying,” he forces out, “but I have this really annoying commanding officer who keeps making me come in for useless reports, so.”
“All right, all right,” he stands and walks back over his to desk, “I get the point. Get out of here Fullmetal.”
Ed pulls himself up and snaps a mocking salute before turning on his heal and walking out. He tells himself he’s imaging the weight of Mustang’s eyes on him, but he doesn’t think he is really.
This could be a problem.
Ed has plenty to worry about, more than enough problems to keep his brain occupied. There’s some freaky Homonculi running about, Al’s started questioning him about what their next plan is and he honestly doesn’t know what to say, he’s literally dying – and all he can think of is Mustang’s bruised lip.
This is such a fucking inconvenient time for his hormones to rear their ugly head.
He’s completed the array. Even if he were to have a fever tomorrow Al would get his body back. So the homunculi should be his first priority, and honestly he still doesn’t know where the rest of them could be hiding, or even how they escaped Lab Five in the first place. Granted he and Teacher managed to track those three down, but that place was surrounded by military, there’s no way they should have been able to walk out unnoticed –
“Oh,” he breathes out. “Oh, I’m such an idiot!”
“Brother?” Al looks up from his book.
Ed’s already scrambling up and grabbing his coat as he shoots out the door, “Stay here Al! I’ll be right back!”
“Brother!” Ed just waves a hand and continues his march. There’s a phone in the lobby, but if he’s right then there’s a chance they’re being watched.
So he runs about four blocks down the street, and he really, really shouldn’t be doing this, his lungs can’t take it. But he arrives gasping at the bar he went to before, and looking at him in concern and confusion is the same dark skinned barkeep as before. “Do you have a phone?” he chokes out. He’s a hairs breath away from a coughing fit, but he knows once he starts he won’t be able to stop.
The barkeep stares at him a long moment, and Ed knows he must look half mad, but this is important. “Come here,” he says finally, and leads him to a phone in the back. He gives Ed one more lingering look before returning to the front of the bar.
Ed dials with shaking fingers, and he knows it’s impossible for him to actually feel his lungs filling up with blood, and yet. “Curtis Butchers,” Teacher says cheerfully, and she must be having a good day if she’s manning the shop.
“It’s the military,” he wheezes, and he closes his eyes against the black spots that are dancing behind his eyes. “There’s some high ups in the military involved.” As soon as he says it his mind flashes back to a day over four years ago where the Fuher himself had baited Edward into accepting the State Alchemist commission. He’d done so with the promise that they could continue looking for the stone, almost as if – as if – well, fuck. “It’s the Fuher! Fuck, I have to kill the Fuher. They’re not going to give Al my death benefits if I kill the leader of the military.”
He can’t hold back the cough any longer, and just as he thought once he starts he can’t stop. They wrack his frame and build a pounding behind his eyes. It lasts for excruciatingly long minutes, and when he pulls his hand away from his mouth his glove is nearly soaked in blood. Gross.
“Are you done?” Teacher asks.
“Screw you,” he mutters, pealing off his glove and using the part of it that’s still clean to wipe his mouth.
She laughs, “When you start vomiting up your stomach lining, then we can talk. Until then stop being such a wimp.”
“Did you hear me?” he reaches into his pocket and groans. He doesn’t have any honey lozenges on him.
“Edward,” she says, “I am delighted to kill the leader of this great nation. You don’t worry your pretty little head about it, your death benefits will be fine. I will gladly march into Central and behead Bradley with my own two hands. Get out of there and I’ll take care of the rest.”
“Teacher!” he snaps, “It’s too dangerous for you to go alone!”
“What’s the worst that could happen?” she asks reflexively, “I’m nearly dead already.”
He and Teacher were really the worst people to give death sentences too. It’s not like they’d been overly cautious with their lives to begin with. He’s about to vocalize that thought when she hangs up on him. “Great,” he hangs the phone back up, “Awesome.”
“Do I want to know what that was about?” Ed startles and looks up. The hulking barkeep is staring down at him. He’s got a bright red drink in his hand.
He opens his mouth, then shrugs. “It’s probably best if you don’t.”
“Kid,” he rubs the back of his neck, seemingly hesitating before coming to a decision. “Look, you’re the Fullmetal Alchemist. The Alchemist of the People. Whatever you’ve gotten mixed up in – I trust it’s for the good of us all.” He holds out the drink.
“Thanks,” Ed says, taking it in shaking hands, and he has to use both hands to keep it from spilling. He hasn’t looked away from the barkeep yet, because he’d forgotten. In the mess of the philosopher’s stone, the homunculi, and his own impending death, he’d forgotten what he was.
An alchemist. The alchemist, depending on who was asked. And state certified or not, he has a duty to these people.
“I’ve got your back, kid,” he taps the side of his nose and winks, “The name’s Wolfrik. You need something, you come to me.”
Ed requests a mission to the East. Mustang grants it, and when he hands over the file Edward can’t stop starring at his lips. “Take care of yourself,” the colonel says, dark eyes sweeping over Edward. He had to take in his belt another notch last week. He has to start eating more, otherwise the starvation will kill him before the illness. “I know I’ve said this before, but you do have accrued time off.”
“I’m good,” he flips through the file. It’s easy, just checking up on Liore. After the second time their priest had disappeared, people had been far more willing to work with the military. He’d be insulted but it’s actually perfect, and come to think of it he’s going to have to stop taking combat missions soon. Shit, he’s going to have to figure out a way to explain that one. “Thanks.”
He looks up and Mustang is biting his bottom lip, right in the same spot. Ed gets an insane urge to lick that spot, and hightails it out of there before he gives in.
There should be a rule somewhere: either his body can die on him or it can ruin him with hormones, but not both.
“Brother, this is insane!” Alphonse protests as Ed tries to shove him on the train. “They know us in Liore!”
“Right, so they’ll keep their mouths shut when you show up alone.” He couldn’t do it when he was healthy, and he certainly can’t do it now when his lower back feel like it’s being stabbed with knives. “People mistake you for me all the time! You have my watch, it’ll be fine!”
Al throws up his arms and turns to face him. “But why?”
“Don’t question your older brother,” he says sternly, “Now do as I say and get on the train. I’ll call you tonight.”
“Fine!” he snaps, stepping on to the train, “but you better have a good explanation for this, Brother!”
Ed waves him off before turning on his heel and ducking into an alley. With a clap of his hands his coat dulls from red to completely black. The last thing he needs is well-meaning civilians reporting that they’d seen the Fullmetal Alchemist. He flips the hood up and walks towards where he knows she’ll be staying. He’d checked out of his room this morning, but with any luck a certain someone will have already checked in.
Ed glances at himself in a window and has to grin – he looks like he’s dressed for his own funeral.
He gives her a couple hours, just in case, then ducks up the back entrance of a hostel on the edge of the city. The waves of pain coming from his back have dulled to the point that he can pretend that he just slept wrong, so they might as well do this before either one of them hits a rough patch and becomes a liability. He knocks twice on the door and when it opens he doesn’t flinch when a knife still glittering with alchemical energy is shoved in his face. “Hey,” he gently pushes the knife away, “Thought you could use a hand.”
Izumi stares at him, and this is probably going to be the only time in his life that he can say he’s surprised her. “I told you to get out of here!”
“Did you really think I was going to let you so this alone?” he quirks an eyebrow and leans against the doorframe, “So are we just going to stand here all night, or do you have plan?”
She rolls his eyes and pulls him inside, pressing him against her in a desperate hug before shoving him onto the floor and slamming the door shut.
All in all, the most surprising thing is how easy it is.
(No, the most surprising thing is facing off against the thing that he and Al created, the thing with his mother’s face, but he’s not going to think about that. Luckily, he probably won’t live long enough for this to haunt him.)
The Fuher doesn’t keep a guard around him, believes he’s strong enough to face anything that comes gunning for him. Heh. Looks like the deaths of three of his kind hadn’t been enough to shake off that delusion, but then again there’s probably a reason he called himself Pride. It was the same as the other times – prolonged contact, enough to channel the energy of the homunculi back into the earth, and watch as whatever form they have melts away. Of course it’s not quite that easy, because they fight back like hell, and Ed’s more than a little off balance by having his mother facing across from him.
But they win, in the end. They’re bruised and bleeding and if not for a quick application of inadvisable alchemy Ed would have at least two ribs poking out of him.
Ed rubs Izumi’s back as she vomits up what looks like half the blood in her body, looking out at the wreckage they’ve made of the Fuher’s mansion. “We have to get out of here.”
“Oh, really?” she mutters crossly. “I was planning to stay around and get gunned down by military dogs.” He digs in his pocket and offers her a honey lozenge. She takes it with a roll of her eyes. “I need a drink.”
“You know what?” With a clap of his hands there’s a handy rope leading out of the window to the grounds below, “I know just the place.”
It’s something approaching midnight when Ed and Izumi stumble into the bar. To his credit, Wolfrik takes one look at them and starts pouring shots. “Mission complete?” he asks, eying Izumi warily. Ed internally commends him on figuring out who the most dangerous of them is.
“Long live the king,” Izumi toasts before downing three shots in a row without blinking. Wolfrik goes to refill them but she tugs the bottle out of his hand and takes a long pull.
Ed holds his own shot aloft before knocking it back. He can’t help from sputtering a little as it burns its way down his throat. “Do you need a bottle too?” Wolfrick offers hesitantly, sliding away from Izumi.
“I’ll take my usual,” he shakes his head, “I think I’m bleeding on your stool, by the way.”
“Don’t worry about it.” He blinks at them both before saying, “You two are some scary shit, you know that?”
“Eh, not really,” Ed says at the same time that Izumi pauses in chugging the bottle to say, “I’m just a housewife.”
Wolfrik rolls his eyes and slides Ed his usual. “Right.”
They drink in silence in for a minute before Izumi says, “So – so that thing. It looked like, well. You know.”
“Yeah,” Ed closes his eyes. “Yeah. You know what that means don’t you.” Izumi doesn’t say anything but her whole face crumples before she can get it under control and smooth out her expression. “I’ll take care of him. I promise. If we find – if there’s one of these monsters out there with your son’s face, with Sig’s eyes and your smile, I will take care it. I promise.”
She grabs his arm and squeezes hard enough to bruise before taking another swig from the bottle. It’s more than enough.
Ed takes a long sip of his drink before saying, “Hey, Teacher.”
“Yeah?” she wipes her mouth and turns to face him.
He hasn’t allowed himself to think these words since he found out, since that first time black spots swam in his vision and he had to clutch the back of a chair to keep from falling over. It’s pointless. They won’t change anything, nothing at all, but they crawl themselves out of the place where he keeps other shameful things and he admits in a low voice, “I don’t want to die.”
“Yeah,” she breathes out. When she smiles at him it looks like it hurts, but Edward can’t help but return it. “Me neither.”
Because there is no justice in the world Roy Mustang chooses this moment to tower behind him and shout, “Edward?!”
He twists on the stool and presses a finger to his lips, “Be quiet! Fuck, Colonel, what do you want? I’ve had a long night.” Maes is beside him, mouth agape. They’re both in civilian clothes that aren’t buttoned correctly, and actually he’s pretty sure Hughes is wearing his pajama top under the jacket. “So you heard the news, huh? That didn’t take long.”
“What are you doing here?” Mustang hisses.
“I’m not here,” Ed says, “I’m in Liore. Ask anybody.”
Maes takes a step closer, face pale. “Edward, tell me you didn’t. That – that wasn’t you, was it?”
“I didn’t do anything,” he glares before repeating pointedly, “I’m in Liore. Ask anybody.” He turns to Wolfrik who’s polishing an already spotless glass. “Hey, have you seen the Fullmetal Alchemist around?”
“No sir,” he answers, poker face perfectly in place, “Haven’t seen him for a few days now. Last I heard, he was heading East.”
Maes chokes. “Don’t look at me,” Izumi says, “I’m just a housewife.”
Ed snorts and holds out his bright red drink to Mustang like a peace offering, “Come on, you came here to celebrate, right? I know it wasn’t to mourn.”
Mustang takes the drink from him and places it on the bar with exaggerated care. He frames Ed’s face in his hands, and he’s not wearing any gloves. It’s the most they’ve ever touched and for a moment Ed can’t breathe. “You’re bleeding,” he says, wiping at Ed’s lip. He holds up his hand and Ed sees a smudge of bright red on his thumb.
“Must have bit my lip,” he whispers, and he wishes he could make his eyes look anywhere else, but they’re fastened on Mustang’s bottom lip. It’s bruised again, in that same spot. He must have started biting it when he heard the news of the Fuher.
Mustang breathes out harshly and shakes his head, “You idiot. You reckless, beautiful idiot. What the hell were you thinking?”
“Beautiful?” Ed repeats, and he has the pleasure of seeing Mustang go deathly pale. He’d never do this in different circumstances. But he’s sixteen, Mustang just called him beautiful, he’s dying, and he just killed the fucking Fuher of Amestris. “You know,” he swallows, “drinking isn’t the only normal teenage thing I haven’t had the time for.”
“Edward,” he says, eyes wide. Teacher isn’t doing anything to stop him, which means that she must be okay with it, and honestly that’s all he needs.
“Roy,” he returns, and then he grabs his commanding officer by the collar and pulls him in for a kiss. There’s a moment of awkwardness, where Roy freezes and Ed doesn’t know what to do with his mouth, but then Roy surges forward and pins him against the back of the bar. It digs into Ed’s lower back, but it’s worth it, it’s worth it when he threads his fingers through Roy’s hair and kisses him back, if not skillfully then enthusiastically.
“Damnit Ed,” Roy gasps when the pull apart. “What the fuck are you thinking? I can’t be – you’re my underage subordinate, I can’t be – we can’t.”
“I’m of age,” Ed says, looping his arms around Roy’s neck, eyes bright as he kisses the edge of his mouth. “And you’re not doing anything with anyone. Edward Elric is in Liore. Ask anyone.”
Roy shakes his head but he’s not pulling away. “Maes?” he calls out desperately.
Ed twists enough to see that Hughes has somehow convinced Teacher to share her liquor and they’re flipping through his thousand pictures of his daughter. “You know what I think,” Maes says, not looking away from the photos.
Izumi glances up and runs an assessing eye over Mustang. “You’ll do,” she informs him before catching Ed’s eye and winking.
“Come on,” Ed murmurs, sliding off the stool and switching his grip so his arms are around Roy’s waist. “Come on.” He won’t have the courage for this in the morning. This is his one chance to not die a virgin, because fuck if he’s going to let anyone but Roy touch him this way. He doesn’t want anyone but Roy touching him this way.
“You’ve been drinking,” he mutters, more to himself than to Ed.
But Ed pinches his side and Roy jumps and looks down at him. “Take me home,” he says, eyes wide, “For fuck’s sake, Colonel. Take me home.”
“Roy,” he corrects gently. He cups Ed’s cheek, the one that he knows will have a bruise in the morning.
Ed leans his head into the warmth of that hand, “Roy.”
He takes him home.
Ed’s actually terrified, mostly of looking like an idiot. But they go slow. Roy leads him into the bathroom, turns on the shower and lets the steam fill the room while he slowly peels Ed out of his blood crusted clothes. “Damnit Ed,” he mutters, pressing lightly against the cut against his side.
When Ed breathes in he can count his ribs, so he does his best not to that. Instead he twines his fingers through Roy’s and says, “Don’t focus on that. Focus on me.”
So he does. Roy tips them both into the shower cleans the blood and sweat and grime off of his skin, kisses his too-prominent collar bones and the places where automail meets flesh. He hadn’t expected this. He’d noticed Roy’s lingering gaze, thought he liked the shape of his shoulders or his ass in leather, the sharpness his chin. But he hadn’t thought Roy would like him like this, too thin and bruised, covered in scar tissue that will never really fade and almost more metal than man.
Roy has his scars too, and Ed presses his mouth to them, licks up the faded white lines, the mismatched burn scars and what he thinks are knife marks. He wonders if they’re from before Maes improved his aim. They walk naked from the shower to the bed, still dripping. “We’re going to get your sheets wet,” Ed says, and Roy rolls his eyes and pulls Ed onto the bed.
“I don’t care,” he says honestly, kissing him again, “Come on, let me show you how to do this.” Roy opens himself up for Ed, shows Ed how to stretch the muscle so it doesn’t hurt. “I’m ready,” he presses a kiss into Ed’s shoulder, and bucks up into him.
Ed pins his wrists downs and drags his lips up Roy’s chest. “Are you sure?” he reaches in-between them, pressing inside. Roy twists into his hand. “I don’t want to hurt you. I won’t hurt you.”
“You won’t,” he says, “You wouldn’t. Ed, please.” So Ed moves into him, fucking him as carefully as he can stand. At some point careful gets thrown out the window and it’s just hot and hard and perfect.
After Roy throws his arm around Ed’s shoulders and pull him close to his chest. “You know,” he presses a kiss to Ed’s forehead, “this really isn’t how I anticipated my night going.”
“Any complaints?” Ed asks, tipping his head up so Roy can kiss him properly instead.
Roy smiles against his lips, “None.”
The next morning he wakes up with Roy nipping against his neck, which makes him instantly grin. “Morning.”
“Good morning,” Roy licks up cheek just to be annoying and Ed makes a face but doesn’t pull away. Something shifts in Roy and he presses a very deliberate kiss to his forehead. “Ed,” he pulls back, “do you feel okay?”
“I feel great,” he says, and he’s not even lying. He’s not nauseous, there’s no muscle spasms, even his lungs aren’t bothering him too much. Clearly sex with Mustang is good for him. He flips them over so he straddling Roy, beaming down at him while Roy blinks and tries to figure out how that happened.
He reaches up and presses his hand against Ed’s forehead, “It feels like you’ve got a fever. Are you sure you feel okay?”
Ed freezes. The blood in his veins turns to ice, and he bends down to kiss Roy before he notices. A fever. He has a fever. “Fine,” he bites at Mustang’s lip, “I’m fine.”
His heart is pounding and he’s two seconds away from breaking into a cold sweat. He rolls his body against Roy’s, almost wants to weep in relief when Roy returns his touches, allows himself to be distracted by the promise of sex. He has a fever. It’s not fair.
After Roy kisses him, long and thoroughly and looks at him like he’s something precious. Ed smiles back and tries not to cry. He waits until Roy’s in the shower, declines joining him by pointing out that they’ll never get clean if they shower together. Roy’s asking him what he wants for breakfast while Ed’s zipping up his pants, and by the time he comes out of the shower Ed will be gone
He has to get to Liore. If his mother is anything to go by, then he has maybe a week before he gets too sick to move. He needs to find Al and perform the transmutation before then, as soon as possible. If he gets too sick, if his body deteriorates too far, then it won’t work and it will all be pointless.
Central is passing by out of his window, and Ed curls up on the train seat and resists the urge to close his eyes against the sight. He’ll never see it again, after all. He can still feel Roy’s hands on him, his mouth, and it’s so fucking not fair that he doesn’t even get a full twelve hours with the man before he has to leave him, before he has to go running off to die.
It’s fine. He’ll go to Liore, find his brother, and restore his body. It’s fine.
He owes his mother an apology anyway.
Of course, nothing goes to plan.
There’s his damned father, and Rose, and some crazy old lady. There’s Wrath, and he’s got Izumi’s dimples.
Although. Some things do go to plan.
He kills Wrath, as he promised Izumi. He saves Amestris, as is his duty. He restores his brother, as he always swore he would.
As he must.
(He wrote letters for them. It probably would have been less insulting if he hadn’t written anything at all.
To Winry: I’m sorry. I know you’ll hate me for this. I forgive you.
To Alphonse: I’m not sorry. There’s nothing I can say that you don’t already know. I love you.
To Roy: I’m sorry, I’m so fucking sorry, I thought I had more time. I wish I had more time.
The first two are kept in a safety deposit box in the East.
The last is scribbled on the back of a crumpled receipt and left on Mustang’s nightstand while the bed is still warm from their bodies.
None of them are sure which ends up being worse.)
Of course, then the most surprising thing of all happens.
He wakes up.
“Edward!” his eyes swim into focus, and Hohenheim is beaming above him.
“Fuck,” he groans, “I’m in hell aren’t I? That’s fair, I guess.”
“Not quite,” Hohenheim says wryly, holding out his hand. Ed stares at it mistrustfully for a moment before giving in and grabbing the old man’s hand so he can pull him up.
But then he sees his hand. His flesh hand. “What the fuck,” he breathes, bending over and yanking up his pants. His legs are flesh too. He has two arms and two legs. “What the FUCK!”
“Edward, please calm down,” Hohenheim says urgently, “You’re not in your body. You gave that up to restore Alphonse.” There’s something like pride and sadness in his father’s eyes, and he can’t stand to look at it.
“Then who’s body am I in?” he growls, “I’m not going to play the sick little games you’ve been playing, hopping from body to body. Where are we?”
Hohenheim twists him around and shoves him in front of a mirror. It’s him. He’s got short hair, and he’s bit less – athletic than he’s used to. But it’s him. His body. He presses a hand to his throat, feeling for a pulse. He breathes in and out, two large breaths. Nothing hurts. No lung problems, no muscle spasms. No fever. His collarbones aren’t threatening to pop out of his skin. He goes into a handstand, and these muscles are a little shaky but they’re strong. Unharmed. None of the twinges from old battle wounds, no automail, no sickness. He bets this body doesn’t even have any scars. “You’ve been in a coma for two weeks,” Hohenheim says softly. “The soul that inhabited body – I mean, this body died. For a few moments. That soul left. Yours entered.”
“But it’s me,” he whispers, touching his reflection. “Where are we?”
“It’s a place called Germany,” he says finally, “It’s very different from Amestris. It will take some getting used to.”
Ed nods, tilting up his head to look for a faint scar that should be swooping up his neck. It’s not there. “This body,” he has to swallow before he can continue. He has to know. “Will it – am I going to get sick again?”
Hohenheim softens. “No, Edward. You won’t.”
That doesn’t make any sense. It’s genetic. Unless it’s a combination of genetics and environment. “Will I get sick when I go back to Amestris?”
“You can’t go back to Amestris,” Hohenheim says firmly. “It’s impossible.”
“Answer my question, old man,” he snaps.
He rubs at his forehead and says, “No, Ed. If you were to return to Amestris, you would not get sick again.”
Ed looks at himself from the side. He needs to grow out his hair. He looks like a kid. “Okay.”
“Okay?” Hohenheim repeats, uncertain of his seemingly easy acceptance.
“Okay,” Ed nods, “Let’s get to work. What’s this world like? Where are we? Specifically, I mean. Is this your counterpart’s house? Mine?”
He’s healthy again. He’s got two arms and two legs, and there’s no blood pooling at the base of his throat.
He’s not a religious man. But this is as close to a miracle as he’s ever seen, and now he just needs one more.
Living with his father isn’t nearly as bad as he thought it’d be. He’s a bastard, but he’s brilliant, and they stay up far too late catching up on the science of this world together.
He trains, tries to regain the skill and muscle memory in this body that he had in his old one. Once he reaches all he can do on his own, he goes to the heart of Berlin and goes far enough underground until he finds the fights. He knows his old forms, his old moves, but if he doesn’t practice against anyone they won’t be sharp and fluid like they need to be.
The first night that he comes home with black eye and bruised ribs Hohenheim only sighs and asks, “Did you win?” Ed rolls his eyes drops a stack of cash on the table. “Right,” he mutters, “stupid question.” He doesn’t ask after that, but he does wait up every night to make sure Ed comes home in one piece.
The years pass. Ed regains his skill, his strength – is even better than he was before, without the automail weighing him down, without battling an illness. It makes him wonder how much more terrifying Teacher was before she attempted human transmutation. He grows his hair out until he can wear it in a hightail, and only huffs a little at how touched Hohenheim is that he’s copying him.
He finds peace in this world. He likes it. He likes the other engineers and physicists, likes the food and the beer, likes the people. He’s not a fan of the politics happening, but there are other places besides Germany. This world’s a big place. He could explore it. He never stops searching for a way to get home, but this is – a comfortable existence.
Then of course, almost four years to the day that they arrived in this world, a different crazy lady kidnaps his father. She’s set up a transmutation circle and is convinced they can make it work. She’s nuts. There’s no alchemy on this side, and he’s two seconds away from grabbing a gun and busting them both out of there when Hohenheim goes, “No. Wait.” He swallows, the knife the woman has pressed to his throat scraping his skin. “I came through the portal, body and soul. My blood is of Amestris.”
“Shut up,” he hisses, “Stop giving the crazy lady ideas.”
He smiles, “Ed, I’ve treasured these years together more than you can know. I’m so happy we got to share them.”
Ed knows what he’s doing, he’s insane, this isn’t how he wants to get home. “Dad, don’t! It’s not worth it!”
“You called me dad,” he says happily, “Thank you, Ed. Now be quick. This will only work once.”
“DAD!” He screams. Hohenheim slits his throat on the knife, and falls dead to the ground. His blood pools into transmutation circle. The crazy lady starts screaming. “You idiot,” he hisses, tears clouding his vision, “You fucking idiot.”
He claps his hands and slams them to the ground. The light of a transmutation blinds him, and he can feel the alchemical power flowing through his hands.
He opens the gate.
Ed doesn’t know where he expected to end up. Liore, maybe. But certainly not in the middle of a flower field. “The hell,” he mutters, looking up. He’s on his ass in the dirt, and he’s looking up at what he thinks are – flowers? Giant ass flowers. If the portal made him short as some sort equivalent exchange he’s going to be pissed.
He stands up and forces his way out of the flower field. The first thing he sees is the Rockbell house in the distance, and his grin stretches across his face. He’s finally home. The he frowns, because he recognizes this angle. It’s how he’s seen the Rockbell house for most of his childhood. He turns around, and – oh.
They’re sunflowers. A field of sunflowers planted where their house used to be.
He’ll absolutely deny taking five minutes to cry about that. There was dirt in his eyes. Then he marches toward the Rockbell house, restraining from running only because they might not be there. They might be in town, or in Central even, and then he’ll just look like an idiot.
He knocks twice on the door, and then kind of feels like an idiot anyway because he hasn’t knocked before entering the Rockbell’s possibly ever. “Hello?” he calls out, pushing the door open. “Is anyone home?”
There are new pictures on the wall by the door. Ones with Al, and he can’t help but trail his fingers over the image of his brother in his own body. “Hey!” a sharp voice calls out, “Don’t touch that! Who are you? Who enters someone’s house without permission?”
“Geez Winry,” he turns on his heel, “I’m not back ten minutes and you’re already nagging me.”
Winry looks the same. Well, she looks older, like a real adult, but she’s still blonde and blue eyed and his best friend since before he could walk. The wrench in her hand slips to the ground and her mouth drops open. “Ed?” He runs over and picks her up in his arms, lifting her and spinning her around. She clutches his shoulders and lets out a laugh that sounds like a sob, “Ed, you idiot, put me down!”
“Can’t,” he says childishly, “If I do, you’ll hit me with a wrench.”
“I will not,” she sniffs, “Now put me do – AH!” he spins too fast and nearly send them sprawling but he balances himself at the last moment. “ED!”
“Okay, okay,” he lets her drop back onto her feet. “You’re so bossy.”
Winry throws her arms around his neck and buries her face in his shoulder. He can feel her tears. She’s crying almost silently, but her whole body is shaking. “Hey,” he says softly, “Hey, it’s okay. It’s all okay.”
“I’m so confused,” she hiccups, “but I’m happy too!” He rolls his eyes but hugs her back just as tightly. He had missed her something terrible, after all. Wrenches and all.
“Winry?” a voice that Ed hasn’t heard before calls out, or at least one he hasn’t heard that deep. “What’s all the fuss about?”
Ed watched over Winry’s shoulder as Alphonse steps into the room. He’s perfect. Oh god, he looks all grown up, he was ten the last time Ed saw his body, and now he’s twenty. He can feel his eyes filling up, because it was one thing to know he’d restored Al and another thing entirely to see it. Winry gives him one more squeeze before stepping back, wiping at her eyes. “Look who made it home,” she says, smiling so wide it looks like it hurts.
Al takes one wooden step forward. Then another. “Brother?” he whispers finally, almost close enough to touch. His eyes sweep over Ed, his fingers twitching to reach out but holding back. “You’re dead. You died.”
“Yeah,” he agrees, swallowing thickly. “I came back.” He reaches out and carefully, carefully strokes Alphonse’s cheek with the back of his finger. He can’t help it, he is crying now. “Worth it,” he chokes out, “Completely worth it.”
“Brother,” Al gasps out, and he doesn’t know who moves first but then they’re hugging each other tight enough to bruise, and both of them are crying, and it’s a giant mess. “I’m angry with you,” he gets out in-between sobs, “You were sick, and you lied to me, and then you left – just like Mom, Brother. You were dead and I was alone, and – you were dead. Brother you were dead, and I wasn’t. It was awful.”
“I know,” Ed soothes, pressing kisses to Al’s forehead, “I know.”
“Don’t leave again,” he breathes, fingers digging into Ed’s back, “You can’t leave again. I won’t survive it, Brother. I won’t.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” he swears, “I promise, okay? I’ve never broken a promise, have I?”
Al shakes his head against Ed’s shoulder. Winry can’t hold back anymore and joins them, throwing her arms around them both.
Edward has never been so happy in his entire life.
“So,” Al says later that night, leaning into his brother on one side while Winry does the same on the other. He’s playing with his brother’s flesh fingers while Winry’s tangled her legs with Ed’s, not satisfied they’re both there and real unless she can feel them. Not only have they gotten Ed back, but they’ve gotten him back whole and healthy. Ed would make fun of them for their fascination if he hadn’t gone through the same thing himself. “Roy.”
Ed flushes bright red. “Where’s Granny?” he blurts out.
“Rush Valley,” Winry answers promptly, “Something about finally settling something with Dominic. I can’t believe you slept with Mustang.”
“It wasn’t planned,” he mutters crossly. He clears his throat, “So Mustang – is he, uh.”
Al shakes his head, “No. He hasn’t seen anyone seriously since you – you died.” Ed squeezes Al’s shoulder. “He misses you, Brother. A lot.”
Ed tips his head back. He was a kid. He had a kid’s crush. Except where nothing he’s felt for anything else has come close and picturing Roy’s eyes still makes his heart race. “Care for a trip to Central?” he asks.
“Well, we’re not letting you out of our sight,” Winry says, “So I guess we’ll have to.”
Winry calls Pinako and tells her what’s happened. Ed takes the phone and says, “Hey Granny.” He then stands and endures seventeen minutes of her cursing him out and calling him ten kinds of moron, and then she makes a sound like a sniffle and hangs up on him.
He shakes his head and makes another call. “Curtis Butchers.”
“Good,” he says cheerfully, “You’re still around. I was worried you might have died on me when I was gone, Teacher.”
There’s a period of twenty three seconds of silence. This is the second time in his life he’s managed to surprise Izumi. “I don’t appreciate these kind of practical jokes,” she snaps finally.
“Remember when we killed the Fuher together? Good times,” he says. He thought this might happen.
There’s another ten seconds of absolute silence. “Edward Elric, you impossible, ridiculous apprentice. You come to Dublith as soon as you can so I can murder you.”
Then she hangs up on him.
Ed puts the phone back on hook and turns to Al and Winry. “Could have gone worse.”
Winry smacks him on the back of the head.
It’s good to be home.
Everyone is in the office when they get there. Ed wonders if Al did this on purpose. He glares at his innocent looking brother before rolling his eyes and kicking the door open. “Hey guys,” he says cheerfully. “Long time no see.”
Maes actually drops his stack of photos. Score.
“Boss?” Havoc’s cigarette falls out his mouth. The rest of the office is starring. Hawkeye’s hand is on her gun.
Ed waves at them all and quickly walks past them, “Hi everyone, yes, I’m less dead than previously thought. Al can explain!” He opens the office of Roy’s door and steps inside. He alchemizes it shut with a clap, because he’s not positive those nosy assholes wouldn’t try to break the door down. “In my defense, I tried to give you a call first, but apparently you get enough calls from people claiming to be me that switchboard won’t transfer them anymore? Which is kind of creepy, if I’m honest.”
Roy hasn’t moved from his desk. He’s just sitting perfectly still with a blank expression on his face. He’s still so fucking gorgeous that it makes Ed’s heart swell.
“Look, I get if you’re angry,” Ed steps forward, “I didn’t mean to make you a one night stand, I swear. It’s just that I had a fever, and I knew as soon as I had a fever that I was really going to die. So I had to get to Al before it was too late. I didn’t leave because I wanted to. If that helps, at all.”
Roy gets up from behind his desk, walking with military precision up to him. “You lied,” he says clearly.
Ed winces, “I know, I’m sorry. Roy, I had to, it was the only way I could save Alphonse.”
“You said you wouldn’t hurt me,” he continues, eyes boring into him. Ed forgets how to breathe. “I would consider myself hurt, Edward. To put it lightly.”
“I’m sorry,” he clenches his hands into fists, “Roy, I’m sorry.”
He takes another step closer, “I suppose I could be persuaded to forgive you. On one condition.”
“Anything,” Ed swears. He’s not above pleading.
Roy bridges the gap between them, pressing their foreheads together. “Just a small thing,” he murmurs, “I’ll just need you to spend the rest of your life making it up to me. If it’s not too much trouble.”
Ed’s kissing him almost before he can get the last word out. Roy doesn’t hesitate to kiss him back, hungry and desperate and like no one else has ever kissed him. “I love you,” Ed breathes out. He hadn’t gotten a chance to say it last time.
“You fucking well better,” he growls.
It ends up being a really good thing that Ed’s alchemized the door shut.
It’s about a week later when they finally make it to Wolfrik’s bar.
“I’m glad the rumors were true for once,” he says cheerfully. “Here,” he plops a bright red drink in front of Ed. “Customers now call this the Fullmetal.”
Ed beams and turns to Roy, “I have a drink named after me! My legacy is complete.”
Al laughs, arm around Winry’s waist. “Glad you’ve got your priorities in order.”
Roy pushes the drink down the bar so he can kiss Edward without knocking it over. Winry picks it up to claim it as her own, and Wolfrik rolls his eyes but looks excessively pleased with his current patronage.