What good is knowledge if you have no way to utilize it? This was the question plaguing a group of seven ever since they'd ended up in the god-forsaken hellhole that was wartime Ishval.
Well... truthfully, they'd ended up in the Ishval of one year before the war. They hadn't had a real timeline, not at that time, but their first instinct had been to get the minors out of the damn country and into Amestris. Of course, a year later, one of said minors was no longer a minor. Edwina had returned, but at what cost? Alexia, Lisa and Jim began working to get everyone else out of the country the moment it was needed. The two girls were working on getting legal identities for all of them, which was easier than expected as soon as the war really started going. Jim was their runner, he went back and forth with messages and later, when Leo found the Rockbells, supplies. Edwina was closing off more and more as the screams and gunshots increased. They became better and better at evasion, but-
sometimes they got caught.
They would not escape the war without scars. Physical or emotional.
Leo looked at his hands, seeing the blood that he had already scrubbed off and feeling sick. But he could not let himself throw up what little of Marcus' cooking he had managed to swallow. He hadn't had the guts to even try to use the knowledge crammed into his head by the gate. Marcus stared at the iron cooking pot he'd transmuted using a drawn circle. He didn't have the courage to even briefly touch his hands together. Lisa had already come to the conclusion that she didn't have that inborn talent for alchemy, even though she too had all the knowledge. Alexia also felt useless, even though she could transmute. It was just that her talent would be no use in a fight. Forgeries, however? No one would be able to tell the difference. At least her artistic talents were useful for something. That something being creating the correct papers for her family to be able to enter Amestris and live there without any scrutiny.
Edwina... Edwina had already killed with the art. The white coat made for desert-conditions was stained with blood. She refused to clean it of them.
No one tried to make her.
Jonas talents lay in electronics, with or without sciency magic on his side, while Jim was in the same boat as Lisa. Both made up for that lack with their natural talents. Not once had Jim been caught crossing the border.
It was a good thing there were no Xingese warriors around, otherwise he would have been caught and killed a long time ago. Still, some soldiers were just that good. At least they were just normal soldiers for now. They knew the other shoe was about to drop. And it would drop hard.
It came from nowhere, that spark of hope that would soon make way for dread. But at the moment when Jim came with the news, all four of them felt as if they'd been struck by lightning.
“Al found herself a man.” the black-haired amateur ninja said as soon as he entered camp, falling gracefully onto a makeshift bench near the fire.
Jonas looked up from his latest attempt at creating a walkie-talkie and raised an eyebrow “Oh?”
The unspoken 'And this is important, how?' was telegraphed loud and clear to everyone.
The 24-year old sent him a rogueish grin “His name is Maes and he's absolutely ridiculous.”
Marcus dropped his knife and turned to look at him with wide eyes. Jonas shot up straight, a shocked look on his face. Leo jerked towards him from his first aid kit, face unreadable. And Edwina? Edwina sat up slowly from where she'd been lying on the ground and turned to face him with a raised eyebrow “Really, now?”
Jim smirked even wider “It took her a few weeks, but they're officially a couple, which means...”
“We have an in.” Leo said, hand on his chin.
The only female of their group present shook her head as she stood up “No, don't you get it? We don't just have an in... we have an opportunity.”
They turned to look at their unofficial leader, surprised and overjoyed to see a flame in her eyes that hadn't been there before. It didn't take long for Marcus to understand what she meant “With this...”
Ed looked him in the eye, nodded, then returned her gaze to the others.
“We can save Hughes.”
Even that ray of hope wasn't enough to stop Leo's breakdown when the Rockbells died. Normally, it wouldn't have been that bad, but...
He'd been right there when it happened.
His glasses usually obscured his eyes from sight, which was how he preferred it, after what the Gate... what Truth had done to them.
They were red.
He looked like some sort of half-breed.
But his eyes, trained on the brutal sight in front of him, blurred slightly but not enough by the loss of his glasses, were what had saved him, he was sure.
Scar had seen them. He had seen his red, Ishvalan eyes, and he had spared him from physical injuries.
The mental ones...
The mental ones were what woke him up to throw up for the next few months.
The mental ones were what forced him to collect every personal item the Rockbells had had with them, put them in a box, and guard it with his life.
The mental ones were what made him clean the blood off of the family photo in Yuriy's pocket and place it in the inner pocket of his doctor's coat.
The mental ones were what kept him in Ishval until the very end, doing what the Rockbells had been doing.
The mental ones had led him to take a detour when the war ended. Instead of heading to Central, Leo had taken the box with Yuriy and Sarah's things and taken a train to Resembool. He'd been resigned to it ever since the end of the war was announced and he'd assumed he'd be doing it alone.
But Edwina disagreed with that and had come with him.
The red-head looked at the 26-year old beside him, no longer wearing the blood-stained coat she'd had in Ishval. Instead she'd put on black slacks, boots and a grey button-up. Mourning clothes. Same as him. Though he still wore his doctor's coat over it all and, unlike Ed, he'd managed to fumble a tie around his neck, the same colour as his pants.
“You didn't have to come. I know you wanted to see Al the moment the war was over.” he finally managed to say, his voice almost drowned by the sound of the train.
The brunette sighed “Yeah... I did. But-” she shot him a pained smile “I had a year with her and Liz before... everything. I can wait a few more days. Besides...” she trailed off, looking at the box at their feet.
“You shouldn't be alone right now.”
It was a heavy statement. The dual meaning wasn't lost to either of them. They both knew, individually, that meddling would be bad. Especially right now, when Edward and Alphonse had yet to try and perform Human Transmutation.
Logically, they knew that stopping them was ultimately a bad idea. Logically, individually, collectively, they knew that.
But emotions weren't logical.
So, Ed had come with to insure that he didn't try and stop the brothers. And Leo would do the same for Ed. This was why she was the only one to come with. The two of them could keep an eye on each other and stop the other from doing anything.
It had taken months of arguing. But at the end, they all knew that some things just shouldn't be meddled with. Too many things depended on things going the way they had in canon.
But they had Hughes. They had Hughes and... it would have to be enough.
They'd make it be enough.
they had a little heartbreak to get through.