“You’ve heard the rumors,” Mustang says, looking at Ed over the top of his latest report, “about the angels.”
Ed scoffs and rolls his eyes, “Angels don’t exist, don’t be ridiculous.”
“Of course, of course,” he murmurs, gaze sliding back down, “There have been multiple eye witness accounts, however.”
Ed slouches into the chair and doesn’t bother to keep the contempt to from his voice when he says, “Don’t depend on anything with wings to save you. Things that were made to leave always end up doing so, in the end.”
“Yes, well,” he says, “sometimes they come back.”
He’s always known he was – different, that he and Al were just a little off from all the other kids. But it wasn’t until the Gate, it wasn’t until he stood in a place that doesn’t exist and looked at a being that shouldn’t exist that he understood why.
Al doesn’t know. Ed keeps meaning to tell him, but he can’t find the words.
It’s exhausting, maintaining this body of his mother’s flesh. Once he knew, once he saw Truth – when he doesn’t focus, his body forgets what it’s supposed to be, he gets too tall and eyes open along his arms and his teeth sharpen and glitter like glass shards.
There are times when he inhales and – the world is sulpher bright, he has a thousand eyes, and it’s impossible to tell the singing from the screaming – then he exhales.
He’s pretty sure there’s a trick to it, to existing and being and breathing. He thinks he could get Al’s body back this way too, but they got their bodies from their mother, these inefficient confusing prisons from Trisha, and Ed’s not ready to let go yet. Angels weren’t meant to have bodies, and it’s only by the grace of his mother’s blood that he can pretend to belong in one at all. He doesn’t have the relief of having Fallen, not like his father. Hohenheim had no wings and only two eyes and it must have been much easier for him to maintain the façade of mortal frailty.
He could probably grow his limbs back, if he let Grace settle just a little more firmly on his soul. He thinks – he knows – that if he could teach Al to find and hold onto that bright shining bit of himself, he wouldn’t need the armor anymore. But he won’t be of his mother’s flesh anymore either, won’t be separate from the place where the Gate and god resides, the place where Truth calls for him, weeping.
He doesn’t know how Truth appears to humans, how it sounds to those who were born with only five senses. But Truth is an almost-god, from a time when there was more than one, who was once surrounded by thousands and now had no one.
Hohenheim more than deserved to Fall, for what he did to his brothers and sisters.
Truth is a broken god, alone and bereft with no children and no believers and with no company besides the blasphemous and damned who sometimes come knocking on its door.
When Ed is on the edge of sleep he can hear it, the faint reedy whisper just outside of his consciousness – come home come home come home this place I built is too big for me come back come home you’re one of mine.
It’s not wrong. Ed can feel the weight of his Grace pressing down on him, as heavy as the wings he won’t allow to grow. But Ed’s taken no oaths, hasn’t Fallen, is of heaven but not from it and so every time he squeezes his eyes shut and doesn’t answer.
He’s known what the Fuher is from the beginning, smoke and rot in the shape of what it thinks a person might look like. It doesn’t stop him. Nothing stops him, because he’s not entirely sure what he’s doing.
He knows how philosopher’s stones are made, has known since he was a child. That’s the thing about being an angel of Truth, however unwillingly – the most awful parts of the world’s knowledge are his to know, his to carry. He knows and he won’t use it, he doesn’t even need it, not really, the Divine inside of him is more powerful than a thousand human souls.
But a thousand angel souls, on the other hand. Can you hear them? Truth asks one night, when Ed is in that in between place of sleep and wakefulness, Can you hear your siblings crying?
He doesn’t answer, because he never answers. Maybe that’s his whole problem, right there. He can hear them, hear the anguished screams of his brothers and sisters trapped in philosopher’s stones, and at the core of him he doesn’t think he’s an angel or a human or anything to do with that.
He’s a brother. And his siblings are crying.
The first time he sees Mustang it takes him a couple of minutes to realize the circle of fire above his head isn’t from alchemy, isn’t something anyone else can see.
He’s not the only one – Olivier Armstrong has one, and it’s not until he catches a glimpse of the king of Drachma that he gets it, that he puts it together, and he decides immediately that Olivier is going to end up cutting off Mustang’s head and claiming the Fuher title of his for her own, because no way would Mustang ever be able to take it from her instead.
That’s not how it works, Truth says that night, and Ed can almost feel what an immortal, ineffable being might consider a hand to be lightly brushing through his hair, it’s a mark of potential, of purpose. It’s –
Divine Right, Ed thinks but doesn’t say, those who walk around with a circlet of holy fire on their head rule by Divine Right. Not that that does them any good here on earth, the stamp of approval from a god no one believes in.
Yes, the god no one believes in says, slow and sad, yes.
He knows Elysia’s a prophet the moment he holds her in his arms. There’s something fever touched in her newly opened eyes, something missing that most humans have, or maybe something added that they normally don’t, he can’t really tell the difference. But he looks at her, and he knows.
Sometimes he worries that she’ll give him away, because she pets the air above his shoulder where his wings should be and speaks to his lower arm, looking at a different pair of eyes than the one on his face. The wings, he understands. If he ever let them grow, ever let them become he would be able to fly. He doesn’t understand the necessity of forty eyes.
It’s a metaphor, Truth says when he’s nodding off on the train, and for the first time it sounds almost amused, just a little less devastated. For you are an all-seeing angel of an all-seeing god.
It doesn’t claim to be all-knowing. Seeing and knowing are two different things, after all. Humans get that mixed up a lot too. It’s the double edged sword of being a god, Ed thinks. It can see all and hear all, but affect nothing, change nothing.
Humans are always calling out for some god to save them. They don’t seem realize that gods can’t even save themselves.
Edward knows what Roy did in Ishval. He knows what they all did, and he aches for them, he yearns to tell them that – that there’s no tally, no scale to balance beyond the ones that they’ve made up. Truth doesn’t take stock of good or bad, not really, not in any way the humans can measure.
They have done terrible, unforgivable things and they have the capacity to do overwhelming, breathtaking good. That’s what being human is, a capacity for change and choice and failure.
He’s fifteen the first time he looks at the pale skin of Mustang’s neck and feels his body warm. It’d be easier, he knows, if it was only lust, but he has met many beautiful people, and none of them make his stomach flip or heart beat faster or anything like that.
“Something on my face?” Mustang asks, not looking up from Ed’s report that he’s pretending to read.
The circlet of fire crackles and spits sparks from its place over his head, and Ed wonder’s if he could touch it. It’s not there not really, not in any sort of physical way. But neither is his halo, or his wings or eyes, and he can feel those just fine. “My fist if you don’t stop wasting my time,” Ed says, but it’s more conversational than threatening.
Mustang snorts and goes back the report. Ed licks his lips and wonders what Mustang would feel like under his hands, if he’d feel like a normal person or maybe if Ed presses hard enough he’ll be able to feel an inferno underneath Mustang’s skin.
There’s one way to find out, but Ed doesn’t fancy adding even more mess to his life by attempting to seduce Mustang.
It wouldn’t be an attempt, he knows, he could do it like breathing. He’s too young but he’s strong and beautiful and broken in almost all the same ways Mustang is, and he could pull the man down with him, could take and no one and nothing would be able to stop him.
He’s borne of an angel and a human and maybe that’s supposed to make him a better person by default, but it doesn’t. It’s his father’s side that sees Mustang’s beauty and wants to claim it for his own, and his mother’s blood holding him back, saying it’s neither the time nor the place.
He wants though, and it’s a grounding enough desire in its own right, one of the things that keeps him tethered to his mortal body – his love for his brother, and the ache of want in the pit of his chest for his commanding officer.
Because his life isn’t complicated enough, clearly.
“Leto the sun god,” Edward says, and it’s very, very difficult to keep from breaking anything.
He doesn’t think Truth is the only god that’s ever existed, he’s not even sure if Truth really qualifies for a god given the common man’s definition. Personally, Ed things people have too high of expectations for divine celestial beings. But something in him rankles at Leto, something sours in the bottom of his throat.
Talks of Ishvala have never done this to him. He doesn’t know if that means Ishvala is real, or maybe it just means that his believers are honest about their faith, about their love for their desert god. Truth is a tricky thing, meaning different things to different people. It’s not as useful as some probably think it is.
But this Leto, this Cornello, it makes Ed’s skin want to shift to scales and his wings burst open and all of his eyes go fire-bright. He can tell all the way at the back of the crowd that Cornello is no prophet and those magic tricks he’s performing are no miracles. Elysia isn’t the only one he’s met – they’re easy to spot, burning too hot and too fast, looking at the world with all-seeing eyes that understand none of it. They die young, no true prophet could live as long as Cornello has and be sane.
Elysia will die young, will die a tangle of coltish limbs and long blonde hair and she’ll be so tired by then it will come as a relief, she will stumble into Truth’s arms and say, “I heard you,” and Truth will hold her in it’s not-arms and kiss her with it’s not-mouth and say, I’m so sorry, I didn’t choose this, I never wanted you to suffer. Ed knows this and he thinks he could save her, he could press his lips to hers and suck out that shard of Grace that clings to her soul, but – but that’s not for him to decided. He’ll ask, when she’s older, but he already knows the answer.
Truth is always preferable to untruth. Elysia will choose to die with her all-seeing eyes and neither Ed nor her parents nor Truth itself will be able to save her.
But now is not the time for him to worry about that. He looks at Cornello and he doesn’t owe Truth anything, he swore no oaths and made no promises. But he has forty all-seeing eyes and wings and too-sharp teeth, and no patience at all for false prophets of gods that don’t exist. He barely has any patience for the god he does know exists.
Sometimes, when he sees Alphonse out of the corner of his eyes, he sees the angel his brother should be, copper-silver feathers and the light of Divinity shining above his head, pretty scales trailing over his almost-body and forty all-seeing eyes.
Then he blinks and his brother is cold armor once more. He wonders if Alphonse knows what he is, if he can feel that they don’t belong here without a frail, incorrect body to tell him he’s not where he should be.
You do belong, Truth whispers to him one night, and it’s softer than its usual screams, more tender, you are of me and of earth, sons of Hohenheim and Trisha. They are not so different, for you are all my children.
Edward reaches back and touches the place on his shoulder where his wings would grow, if he had the courage to allow them to. But he doesn’t, so instead he huddles deeper into his blankets and waits for sleep. Truth sighs, mournful, but falls silent once more.
The knowledge that he’s about to make a terrible mistake doesn’t actually do anything to stop him. He’s standing there with Cornello holding up his philosopher’s stone, his fake philosopher’s stone because if it was real Ed would be able to hear their screaming. There’s a city of people looking up at them, people who are living off lies, and Ed – can’t do this anymore.
“My children!” Cornello calls out to the crowd, “This agent of the devil used my voice to trick you! Don’t allow his evil to infect you!”
Ed growls and stalks forward, “Not quite.” He’s ignored, and that’s fine, he won’t be for long. His brother is out there and this will break them all over again – but maybe they’ve been broken this whole time, since the day they were born, maybe this is the only way they can become whole again.
He can feel his Grace itching to get out, can feel the Divinity inside of shifting and curling. It’s been five long years of keeping it under control, of squashing it down and he just – lets it go.
The first thing is he can hear Truth laughing, bright and joyous, mine, it says, and Ed rolls his eyes but doesn’t deny it. Then he becomes all at once, is looking down at Cornello because his limbs are too long and too thin and there are two dull thumps as his automail falls away. His chest is bare and he holds out his arms, and all forty of his eyes are open, and unfolding from his back are wings of gold, shining and glittering with Grace, and twice as long as he is tall. His teeth feel different in his mouth, pointier and sharper and when he smiles Cornello falls to his knees. Around his waist and hips curl glittering golden scales, impenetrable armor to protect his most vulnerable parts.
Angels were warriors first and all else second.
“What are you?” Cornello whispers, and the crowd has gone deathly silent, the birds have stopped singing, even the breeze has halted for him. Edward holds out his hand and he’s gripping a flaming spear, as tall as he is and older than him, older than Hohenheim. It belonged to the oldest of his brothers, but now they’re gone and Edward curls his hand around the spear and strikes it down.
The tip embeds itself into the stone next to Cornello’s feet, and the marble catches fire, something marble wasn’t meant to do but that’s no normal spear and no normal fire. “I am what you claim to be,” he hisses, and his words sound differently in his mouth now thanks to the teeth, “Tell the truth of your nature or I shall smite you in the name of my lord.”
Wow, that’s so much cooler than just threatening to beat people up for getting in his way.
Cornello’s mouth opens and his eyes go impossibly wide – and before he gets a chance to do anything at all the fake stone on his ring breaks and less than a minute later the thing that used to be Cornello is no more. What a waste.
He turns and looks out at the sea of people, silent and staring and terrified. His Grace is an awful thing, something that hasn’t been on this earth for a long time, and he doesn’t blame them for their terror. Rose steps forward, pale, “I don’t – I don’t,” she falls to her knees, and her eyes water, “Are we forsaken?”
Edward shakes his head, and he is an angel of Truth, he could stand here and tell of his god, and they would have believers once more, have tribute and prayers. Above his head is a halo of Divinity, not a physical thing but clearly seen by these people, and he’s surrounded by wings of gold. His god may have been forgotten, but the myths of angels remain – these people know what he is, and he could tell them whom he serves, he should. But – is it possible to be an atheist and an angel of god at the same time? Because he doesn’t think that the god these people are looking for exists. Truth talks to him, now a clear and fully heard voice, able now to speak to him outside of the liminal space between sleep and wakefulness, tell them the truth, that is your duty, you must say the truth, you are my child and you must speak me to all.
So Ed looks at them all and reaches out a hand that is no longer the right proportions, one with fingers too long and pale, and places it gently on top of Rose’s head. He has two flesh hands now – for a given definition of the word flesh – and he still hasn’t taken any oaths, but he is Divine, Ineffable, and he can’t ignore his responsibilities anymore. “No god has forsaken you,” he says, “but neither is any god coming to save you. There is no power above or below that can save you or damn you or curse you – you must save yourselves.” Truth gives a contented sigh at the back of his mind, and oh, this is what his god wants, this is the truth he must spread. “You have to save yourselves,” he repeats, and he knows it’s not what they want to hear, what no person who’s ever looked to the sky and prayed for salvation wants to hear, but it is the truth.
He removes his hand and leaves a single glinting, golden feather in Rose’s hair. He looks over the desperate, lonely, forgotten people, and Liore may fall or it may rise and that has nothing at all to do with Ed or god or anything else – it has to do with themselves. He’s done all he can do, all he was meant to do. The rest is up to them.
He spreads his wings wide and goes hurtling into the air, and it shouldn’t be this easy, the weight of his Grace should be dragging him down and pinning him to the earth, but instead it’s lifting him up.
Of course it is, his god says, of course it is, that’s always what is was meant to do.
He flies high above the clouds for a while, gives Alphonse the time he needs to gather their things and leave. It’s a long walk from Liore to the nearest train station, but Ed meets him halfway, swoops down and lands in front of him in the middle of the desert.
Ed looks down at him and Al looks up and for a moment neither of them say anything at all until Al whispers, “So you can hear it too? I’m not – not crazy?”
“No,” Ed says, heart breaking, “you’re not.” He swallows, “I can – I can show you, how to be – how to become. But you can’t take it back. You can’t – you’re human, Al, like this, without a body you’re still human.”
“What will I be after?” he asks, and he’s listening thank god, not just demanding his birthright without understanding the consequences like Ed had always half-feared he would.
“You hear Truth now,” he says, “sometimes, a whisper at the corner of your mind. But – but once you let out your Grace, once you are Divine – once you’re an angel, that’s what you’ll be, a vehicle of truth – a – you won’t be a person anymore, Al.”
His brother tilts his head to the side and asks carefully, “Brother, can you – will you – can you die?”
Ed looks down at his fists, his flesh legs, thinks of the automail melted by holy fire into cool marble and says, “Maybe I could have before, but not now. Not really. Not – not how any human would die, not how you can still die. If you – become, then you can’t take it back. It’s forever.”
Al steps forward and runs hesitant fingers along the edges of his brother’s wings and says, “Do it. It’s not like you’re any good on your own anyway – if you’re already one of them, then I should be too.”
Ed has nothing to say to that, not really, because no matter what he thinks this is still Alphonse’s decision, and he has the right to make whatever one he chooses. Ed removes his brother’s helmet, lets it roll onto the side because soon it won’t matter. He reaches out one trembling too-long finger and touches it to Al’s blood seal. “Follow me,” he whispers and slashes it open.
Then they’re not in the desert, they’re in that place where Truth resides, and before all he saw was white, that’s all there was to see back when he was still human, but as angel it’s all space and not-space and beautiful and horrifying and full and empty and –
- and it doesn’t matter because that’s not why he’s there. His brother’s soul flutters like a butterfly, kept safe cupped in his too long fingers. “Wrong set of wings, little brother,” he whispers and lets Al go, holds open his arms and splits open his ribs and lets Al see his grace, see the ways it’s meant sink into bones and how divinity pulses from his heart. “Like this Alphonse, just like this,” he whispers, and it’s alchemy, becoming, and their whole lives they’ve been deconstructed with no hope of understanding. So that’s what Ed gives Al now, gives him the missing pieces, and trusts that Al can figure it out, that he’ll complete the circle and perform the reconstruction to make himself into what he was meant to be just like Ed did.
He closes his ribs and his skin heals over, and Al’s soul is bigger and brighter and burning. He closes his eyes and when he opens them again he’s back on solid ground.
There’s a terrifying moment where Ed isn’t sure if Al found his Grace, if he reflected his soul back at Ed so they could be what they were born to be, but the armor falls uselessly onto the sand and there’s a slash of light in the sky and Truth is laughing.
Alphonse stands in front of him, too tall and with outstretched wings and forty blood red eyes. “Brother,” he says, stumbling forward, and Ed takes his trembling body into his arms and curls his wings around them both, shielding Al as for the first time in a long time he catches his breath and huddles into the warmth Edward’s body provides.
Their halos knock against each other when Ed presses his forehead to Alphonse’s and whispers in return, a confirmation, an adulation, the only prayer he’s ever brought himself to say, “Brother.”
They’re sitting on a train heading to Resembool, Al lying in between his legs and head on his chest as he sleeps. Each soft exhale of his hot, damp breath against Ed’s collarbone is a reminder of what he’s regained. If you had told me that it would be easier to keep our mortal forms this way, Ed thinks, I might have done it sooner.
No, his god says back, you wouldn’t have.
Well. That’s true enough.
Al’s in Ed’s borrowed clothes, although they’d had to alchemize the pants to fit. He’d forgotten how similar they look – Al better not grow out his hair. He leans his head against the window, watching the countryside flash by. What now?
Truth doesn’t pretend to misunderstand, but it doesn’t give an answer either. Instead Ed feels a lipless mouth pressing against his temple, then nothing at all. That’s fair. The whole point of free will is that he gets to choose what he does next, after all.
They’re prepared to lie to everyone else, but not to Winry, not to Granny.
After the crying and exclamations, they stand in the backyard and let their wings spread. It’s easier now that they’re full of Grace, they can isolate what they let out, and they only let out their wings and not the eyes and teeth and scales. Better not to overwhelm them all at once, better to make themselves look more like the figures on Granny’s mantel than holy soldiers.
Granny’s pipe drops from her mouth but Winry stumbles forward and runs her calloused fingers over their metallic feathers, “Beautiful,” she whispers, looking at them. She reaches out both hands to cup each side of their faces, “Oh, what are you going to do now? You have even more secrets!”
Ed could quit the military, could go home, could stay with Winry and Granny and all the people they’ve left behind, rebuild the house they burned down, rebuild the life they burned down.
Al looks at Ed, and he can hear them too, even here and as faint as it is, hear all the screaming. Their brothers and sisters are crying.
“Start a war, I think,” Alphonse says, head cocked to the side. Edward laughs, bright and joyous. Angels were always warriors first and all else second.
Winry glares and crosses her arms, back straight and shoulders flung back. While Ed and All were traveling the world, Winry grew up, not just physically but as a person. It’s a very strange feeling for Ed, to look at her and see someone he loves and knows better than almost anyone and at the same time be looking at woman he barely recognizes. “I’m not sitting at home waiting for you boys anymore!” They both freeze, eyes wide. “I’m sick and tired of waiting for you to come home,” she says and Ed takes those words like a knife to the gut, is she saying that they’re like their father, that they’ve been doing to her what Hohenheim did to their mother –
“Winry?” Alphonse asks, voice careful as he knocks his wings into his Ed’s, grounding him in here and now, “What are you saying?”
Her glare melts into a self-satisfied grin, “I’m coming with you.”
He thinks of telling her no, that it’s too dangerous, that she’ll get in the way, that she should stay home. But the whole point of free will is that people get to decide what to do with their lives, for better or worse, and Edward being an angel of god (a god, some god) doesn’t mean jack shit against Winry’s ability to make her own decisions. Plus, he misses her. She’s his best friend.
“Okay,” he says, and the three of them stand there, two warriors and a healer, and something inside of him feels right for the first time in a long time, “okay.”
They should head straight to Central, but they don’t.
They stop at small towns, places where there are no homunculi, no twisted demon stuck in a flask, just – places, where people are sick and afraid and huddling against the cold of their dark reality.
Winry comes with her healing hands, the child of doctors who died for their truth, an accomplished surgeon in her own right before she was even a teenager. Ed and Al follow the paths of untruth, track down the corruption and lies that keep these places subjugated, removed them, then they leave.
They leave these towns split open anew, bleeding and unsteady and freshly born. Ed and Al unsheathe their wings and their forty eyes and tell them the truth, the same truth again and again – that no one is coming to save them, that they must save themselves.
Amestris is a broken country, formed for the wrong reasons by terrible beings. Edward and Alphonse can stop it’s destruction, and they will – they will release their brothers and sisters back to heaven and return the dwarf in the flask to Truth’s cage. They can stop the destruction, but they can’t put it back together again. Those are tasks better suited to people like Winry, with steady hearts and steady hands, or to Roy and Olivier – people with circlets of holy fire.
He and Alphonse are warriors. They are capable of fixing so little, in the grand scheme of things. Capable of such small things.
They sleep in one bed, Winry between them and their wings open and covering the three of them in the softest and safest blanket.
“It’s easy for you!” Kayhal yells, tears streaming, “You have wings! You can fly away, but we’re stuck here!”
Everyone is staring at them, the people of Youswell turning and looking hard at Ed, and he’s seen the statues, the prayers carved into walls, the figures that mining wives wear hanging from their neck.
The people of Youswell have not forgotten about angels. Ed just doesn’t understand how this little boy figured out he was one – he’s no prophet, Ed would be able to tell, would be able to taste the sulphur-heat in the air around him, but he can’t. So he isn’t.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he says finally, because he will deal with Yoki, he will give this town back the means to survive, but he’ll do it as the Fullmetal Alchemist, not as an angel of Truth.
“Stop lying!” he howls, and Ed flinches away, because he’s a son of Truth, but he’s also a son of man, and just because he can lie doesn’t mean he enjoys it. “You’re a liar and fool! A traitor! What kind of rotten angel leaves good people like my dad to suffer and die!”
Ed stalks forward, eyes blazing, and hisses, “Do not presume to speak lies to me, boy, and call them truths.”
He breathes out and he’s too tall, his wings are wide, and all forty of his eyes are narrowed. The townspeople shrink back but Kayhal doesn’t flinch, meets his angry glare and says, “We’re dying! Don’t you care at all? Don’t we matter to you? Or are humans no more than animals to you, angel?” He spits it like a curse, shrugs off the heat of Ed’s Divinity like it’s nothing more than a mild inconvenience, and Ed doesn’t know what this kid is, but he’s impressed anyway.
He shifts, and he’s back in mortal shape, no longer a being of Grace, and he flicks the kid in the forehead and says, “I’m working on it.”
The crowd parts for him, women clutching their necklaces and people bowing their heads.
After, when it’s done, when Yoki is unseated and the people own their mine again, Ed crouches in front of the kid and says, “You have legs.”
“What?” he says, and his parents are grateful to Ed and wary of him and everything in between but Kayhal isn’t.
He pokes the kid’s skinny thigh, “You may not have wings, but you have legs. Use them. Keep walking forward.”
They say the truth and it’s a small thing, it’s nothing that all these people don’t already know.
But when all seeing-beings with shimmering wings and forty fire-bright eyes say that you have to save yourself, that then must mean that you are capable of saving yourself.
The knowledge of possibility is often all people need in order to do what they formerly thought to be impossible. The willing and wanting is a uniquely human trait, something that Grace and Divinity can’t touch.
Ed and Al are children of both worlds, and so capable of both. What a terrifying tightrope they walk, between possibility and impossibility.
“You’re sure you haven’t heard anything?” Mustang asks, dark eyes intent on his. “Or perhaps Alphonse has. Where is he, by the way?”
“With Winry,” Ed says, and he doesn’t know what Mustang thinks he knows, but it’s nothing close to the truth. He’s been deliberately stepping too hard with his right leg to mimic the way he used to walk with automail, and Alphonse is staying far away from headquarters in the meanwhile so no one can question him about the lack of armor.
Roy leans back in his chair and says, “Ishvalan refugees have begun pouring into Liore by the hundreds. Or so the rumors say. Every time an officer comes by they are shown the utmost hospitality by the locals – and there’s not a single Ishvalan to be found.”
“Really,” Ed says, and Mustang knows he’s lying about something so he doesn’t hide his grin, “I found them to be rather rude, really.” Ishvalans are going to Liore, and Liore is taking them in, shielding them, saving them. They’re not only saving themselves, but others as well.
It’s a holy city now, his god whispers, the girl kept your feather, wears it braided into her hair, and she leads them, if not in your name then in your honor.
The Ishvalans don’t worship you, he points out.
Nobody worships me, it returns, dry, that doesn’t make me any less real, doesn’t make them any less my children, doesn’t make them any less worthy of being saved. Ed smiles – these are truths he can get behind, truths he can fight for, truths he can defend with the full force of his Divinity and a flaming spear.
Roy sighs and rubs at the bridge of his nose, and Ed feels something like sympathy in his chest. “Do you want to get lunch?” slips out before he can stop it, but he doesn’t take it back. It’s just lunch, he can get lunch with the man without jumping on him. Truth stays noticeably silent.
Mustang slowly raises his head, “Excuse me?”
“It’s lunch time,” Ed stands and holds out his hand, “Come on, you look pathetic enough that I’ll even pay, you cheap bastard.” Roy takes his hand with a tired glare, and nearly trips standing up. “Jeeze, what’s wrong with you?”
“Nothing,” he says, only looking at Ed from the corner of his eye, “Nothing is wrong.”
“Whatever,” he rolls his eyes, “Hurry up before I change my mind.” He should really, really change his mind.
They’re quiet as they walk, elbows brushing, and Ed has just decided to break the growing silence between them when they run into the Fuher. Mustang gives an immediate salute, but Ed doesn’t bother. He’s surprised it took Wrath this long to track him down, considering.
“Elric,” he greets, and the smile is fake, everything about him is fake.
Edward smiles slow, and he returns, “Bradley.”
Mustang takes a sharp intake of breath, but the Fuher does nothing. As Ed knew he would.
Edward could kill him, could pin him to the ground with his flaming spear and reach inside his chest for the philospher’s stone, could send his siblings home this very moment. Not the same, not what they once were – they’ll never walk unencumbered across the earth again. But they can go home, return to Truth. But he won’t. Tracking down the rest of the homunculi will be far more difficult if he’s wanted for the Fuher’s murder, so Wrath and Pride will be the last to go. They know it too, otherwise Wrath wouldn’t have gone near him.
“So that’s how it is,” Wrath says, single eye tracking wings that no one but the two of them know are there.
Ed walks away, pulling a stiff Mustang along with him, calling over his shoulder, “Enjoy it while it lasts!”
They turn the corner and Roy pushes him up against the wall, pupils blown and breathing hard, “Fullmetal, what the hell was that –”
“Not quite,” he answers, his own mouth parted in surprise, because oh, Roy is beautiful like this, flickering and furious and as bright as the holy fire that encircles his head.
“This isn’t a game,” he hisses, “What was the Fuher talking about, what’s going on –”
Ed pushes himself up from under Roy’s hands and presses his mouth to Roy’s mouth, and for a moment he is only that, mouth against mouth, and he wonders if Roy can taste his Grace this way, can feel the weight of the Divine on his tongue while they share the same breath. Then he breaks away and Roy’s eyes are wide and his hands are clenched at his side, wanting to touch but not wanting to touch, and Ed can’t do this to him, not now, not yet.
“Sorry,” he says, leaning up for a quick, soft kiss, “I owe you lunch.”
He walks away, feels fingertips grasping his shoulder as Roy tries to stop him, but he doesn’t slow.
It seems irredeemably stupid to drag Roy into the middle of a holy war, he’s already been through one war, after all. Still, though – he thinks, when this is over, that he’d like to do that again, press his mouth against Roy’s mouth.
“You’d think,” Al says as they pour over a map, trying to find the best way to go after the homunculi, “that your giant crush on the colonel would be easier to deal with now that we’ve got our bodies back – well, more or less.”
Edward smacks his brother upside the head without looking up from the map, “Don’t be a brat, that’s my job.”
Al rolls his eyes and nudges Ed in the ribs, “He likes you too, you know.”
“I know,” he sighs. “Which do you think he’s most worried about, the age thing or the rank thing?”
Al hums, “Well, either way you can tell him that you’re an angel of heaven with the knowledge of a millennia stuck in your head, so really if you think about it right you’re older than him and you outrank him.”
Edward stares. “I’m going to go help Winry berate the sick, let me know when you have a plan.”
Al’s laughter follows him out, and Truth whispers, sly, an angel does outrank a divine ruler, in case you were wondering.
They’re angels of Truth, and the dwarf in the flask and all it’s petty monsters are nothing to them. They are beings of Untruth, and stand no chance against the bright holy light of him and his brother. The only way it had succeeded in the first place is through trickery and lies – and what kind of shitty angel was their father, Ed has to wonder, that he couldn’t pick up on the lies he was being fed – and it will not succeed again.
He and Al can eradicate the disease, but not the symptoms. They can inspire people to save themselves, but not save them from themselves, and it’s a delicate balance they walk between being all-powerful and utterly powerless.
Winry can change the world, and she does. It’s her kind words, her steady hands, her faith that saves and touches the people they visit. Ed and Al are symbols, and they’re powerful symbols, but it’s all that they’ll be.
It’s raining. Ed should head back to the room he’s renting, to where his brother and Winry are waiting for him, dry and warm. But he instead he stands under the rain and tips his face up to the sky, and it would be wonderful to fly in this, to clean his wings with rainwater.
It’s sacred, Truth says, all those desert religions got that part right – nothing is more holy on this earth than clean water falling from the sky, than water touching parched lips, dry skin, dirty bodies.
You know they think it’s priests that make holy water, he says, closing his eyes.
Truth scoffs in the back of his mind, What’s a priest to the sky? What’s a man of flesh and blood to infinity, what makes him more special than the great cycles of the earth itself?
Ed smiles and doesn’t answer. It’s no wonder he’d had no time for the more mystical aspects of religion, when all that really matters is this – clean water on dirty skin, and the determination to do better, to be better, to leave things just a little more whole than they were found.
Everything else is superfluous. In the end, the capacity of god lies within the hearts of every man, woman, and child and that’s more powerful, more holy, more Divine than a thousand offerings to gods that may or may not exist.
Edward can stand a lot of things, was prepared to endure worse than this, but being lectured on what gods want by an Unamed man isn’t one of them.
He dances out of Scar’s grasp, eyes narrowed. He doesn’t know if Ishvala is real, or was real, doesn’t know if he had an asterisks next to his order of Thou Shall Not Kill with a footnote reading except in cases of genocide-fueled revenge.
He’s not interested in finding out. There’s only one god-like being he knows of that still gives a crap about people, and it’s the one he’s already following. “I don’t want to hurt you,” he says, since just because Truth isn’t interested in carving common sense into stone tablets doesn’t mean he can’t tell right from wrong. Then again, he is a soldier two times over. Killing is his job.
“You won’t,” Scar says darkly, raising his arm in what he seems to think is a death blow. Ed does his best not to roll his eyes.
There’s a hail of bullets between them and they both jump apart to avoid them. Ed’s heart sinks in his chest, and when he turns he already knows what he’ll find. Mustang standing there, eyes wide and scared and his hand outstretched and useless because it’s raining and the man Ed’s in love with is a moron. In his other hand is the gun and Ed’s almost impressed – he didn’t think that colonel was that good of a shot. Mustang showing up alone is better than him showing up with a whole squadron, but not by much.
“Ed!” Roy calls out, clearly itching to run toward them, “Are you hurt?”
He doesn’t respond because he’s too busy watching Scar’s face, watching the it fill with recognition, then a bitter sort of glee. “Flame Alchemist,” he calls out, turning away from Ed, “it’s time for you to face the god of the people you destroyed.”
The gun is still raised, but Scar has already made it clear he has no problem dodging bullets. Ed reacts without thinking, rips off his red coat and lets golden wings unfurl from his back. From one moment to the next he’s in between Scar and Roy, not quite angel and not quite human, but angel enough to shove a flaming spear in Scar’s face and snarl, “No one’s meeting any gods today.”
Scar says a word in Ishvalan that Ed doesn’t recognize and drops to his knees. Ed wasn’t expecting that, and it seems kind of awkward to threaten a prostrate man with a spear. “Brother!” Al calls, running towards them then skittering to a halt and looking at Mustang and then his brother's half transformed state. “Oh.”
“Alphonse?” Roy demands.
Ed lets the flaming spear slip back into the not-place. Scar has his forehead pressed to the pavement, and he feels kind of ridiculous holding it. He sighs and looks behind him, “Er. I can explain?”
Roy takes a trembling step forward and places a hesitant hand against Ed’s wing, slowly gliding down the enormous length. Ed leans back into the weight of his hands, a shy grin curling at the corner of his mouth.
“Get a room,” Al gags.
Well. He does have a point. “Let’s go,” Ed says, “Before something else goes wrong.”
“I thought I was insane,” Roy mutters, raising a hand to where Ed’s halo shines, even though there’s no possible way he can see it. “Sometimes, just out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw – but it couldn’t be, I thought.”
Roy’s no prophet, so Ed doesn’t know how that’s possible and says, “You have a crown of fire above your head, you know.” He bites his lip and adds, “It’s beautiful.”
They smile at each other, and it’s a perfect moment for him to pull Roy close and kiss him again except in all the ways where it’s absolutely not, like the prostrate serial killer and the hit list Ed still has to take care of and any other number of reasons. Divine warrior or not Ed is still sixteen and Mustang has dark pink lips that Ed wants to bite.
“What are we going to do about him?” Al asks, pointing at Scar. Ed lets the impulse fade and tries not to mourn its loss.
It seems wrong to arrest him. Besides, no jail will keep him contained. “Oi,” Ed says, poking Scar’s side with the toe of his boot, “No more killing people. It’s bad. Go to Liore if you want to be useful. It’s where your people are, and where you should be.”
Scar doesn’t say anything, doesn’t move, but keeps kneeling. Which is weird, but as long as he stays out of Ed’s hair he supposes that’s fine. “Brother,” Al says, looking pointedly at his wings, “maybe put those away before even more people see them?”
Edward huffs out an irritated breath and the wings disappear. He bends down to scoop up his coat, “What did I say about being a brat?”
“Something about black kettles and glass houses if I’m not mistaken,” he answers.
Ed sighs and takes a step away, “Guess I’ll see you, Colonel.”
“Wait!” Roy reaches out and grabs Ed’s hand, “Wait, don’t – I still have so many questions,” his gaze slides to Alphonse and his very much not metal body, then he squeezes Ed’s hand which is definitely not automail.
He wants to give Roy these answers, wants him to know everything, but he can’t, not now. “Later,” he promises, and this time when he slips away Roy lets him, “Later.”
I don’t require celibacy, Truth whispers in his mind that night while Ed is tossing and turning, he wears my circlet of fire, he is as worthy as any of my children of your affections.
He’s a genocide inducing murderer, Ed grumbles back, but it’s a worthless argument. Intent matters more than actions to Truth, and that’s – that’s half the reason Ed won’t spread the knowledge of a god, because this god doesn’t deal with the morality of people in any way they understand, in any way a sensible person would measure it. Because by any fair account Roy is a monster and Ed is a monster and they don’t deserve any bit of salvation, including each other.
He can feel Truth giving it’s equivalent of a shrug in his mind and he sighs out loud. He starts in surprise when Al shifts himself onto his elbows on the bed, looking at Ed over Winry who sleeps soundly between them. “Al?” he whispers, careful not to wake her.
He stares for a long moment, mouth turned down at the corners, before saying, “You can wait if you want to, Brother. But – but you don’t have to. I don’t think it matters the way you seem to think it does.”
Ed blinks, “Alphonse, what are you –”
“If you want him, take him,” he says bluntly, “It’s obvious that he wants you.”
His mouth falls open and heat rushes to his cheeks. That’s the angel in him speaking, not the person, he thinks, because things are so much easier as a soldier of god: take what’s freely offered and damn the consequences, for they are Ineffable, Divine, Untouchable.
But Roy isn’t. He doesn’t have any of those protections, that safety, and it would be wrong of Ed to offer him something he can’t hope to understand.
“Brother,” Al says, softer this time. “go. It’s okay. Go.”
There’s a million reasons for him not do it, and the only reason in favor of it is the heavy weight in the center of his chest.
Anyone who ever claimed being Holy meant they still weren’t horribly selfish was lying. Before he can second guess himself any longer he gets up and swings out of the window, wings unfurling. It’s cloudy enough that if he flies high enough no one should see him.
Roy has a house, not because he has any use for it but because he felt like it was the proper thing for a man of his position to have. With a clap and spark of alchemy the window is unlocked and Ed shimmies his way through.
Roy’s bedroom is as he thought it would be – solid oak furniture and obnoxiously neat since the only place he can stand a mess is his desk. The pile of plush blankets covering Roy is a surprise, and Ed smiles before he can stop himself.
Roy moves, still asleep but seeming to be on his way to wakefulness. Ed is content to wait the long minute it takes Roy to pry his eyes open. He doesn’t shout or start or show any signs of surprise at finding Ed in his bedroom in the middle of the night. “Edward,” he says.
He breathes in then out, letting his wings stretch to their full length and all forty of his golden eyes open and stare. His limbs grow too long and his teeth take up too much room in his mouth while parts of his skin roughen and shift to metallic scales. The shining halo of his Grace rests over his head. Roy sits up in bed, but doesn’t scream or hide or appear repulsed at all. “This is who I really am,” Ed says, voice rough around his teeth, “I’m not – some hero or savior or a fairytale. I’m a nightmare, we always have been, a warning and an executioner. I’m not any sort of thing that people should pray to or believe in.”
Roy gets out of bed and moves to stand in front him, his steps slow and deliberate. It’s odd having to look down at Mustang for once. “A nightmare,” he repeats, and his eyes are soft and warm and not scared at all and Ed thinks he’s going to cry. He ghosts his fingers over the scales and reaches as far up as he can, almost to Ed’s shoulders and looks up Ed’s arm so he meets the gaze of all forty of his eyes before settling on the ones that are actually on his face. “What makes you think that terrible, awful things aren’t beautiful too?” His smile turns rueful, “What do you think I am, Edward?”
Ed clenches his fists until his nails cut bloody crescents into his palms and he folds himself back into human shape only so that he’s the right size to tackle Roy to the bed, falling so his knees cradle Mustang’s hips. They’re the same, no matter all the differences they’re the same and Ed leans down to press his mouth to Roy’s mouth.
There’s Divinity under Ed’s skin and fire in Roy’s touch, and when they kiss Ed’s halo and Roy’s flaming circlet bump against each other. Roy’s hands on his skin is the most human and holy thing he’s ever experienced and he doesn’t resist at all when Roy rolls them over and runs his hands through Ed’s hair and bites his lip, licks the bite and does it all over again.
Ed wishes this was a truth he could spread to all those lonely, aching, crying people. There’s only this, right here, mouth against mouth and heart against heart. It’s what people rage wars for, what people kill for, what they live and laugh and pray for. It’s what Ed will fight for, when he and his brother leave to defeat the homunculi and he’s forced to leave Roy behind, what he’ll ache to return to.
It won’t be he and his brother who fix the world, with their Grace and Divinity and holy fire, with the word of God on their tongues.
It’ll be millions of insignificant, imperfect, beautiful people who believe in this, right here, right now – skin against skin, mouth against mouth, heart against heart. A place to return to, a people who walk with you, the bone-deep surety that you’re not alone.
Roy smiles against the skin of Ed’s neck and presses butterfly kisses to top of his shoulder.
Truth laughs in the corner of his mind and says speak me to all and give them what they need, give them hope.
Ed tugs Roy up to kiss him again and thinks – yes, that’s exactly what he’s been doing, what he’ll continue to do.
But for right here, right now, he has Roy, and with that thought he feels like he did the first time he flew, like he’s being lifted up be a force bigger and more powerful than he is, but it’s something that has nothing to do with gods or angels.
Not all sacred things are holy. Sometimes, not even the best ones.
But they’re all worth fighting for.