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Edward Elric is born with a healthy set of lungs and two bright soulmarks on his tiny wrist. The marks are bold against his skin, and when his father holds him up to get a closer look, Ed smacks him on the nose with an uncoordinated fist.

Trisha Elric laughs.

A year later, when Alphonse Elric is born with an identical set of marks, one above the other on his shoulder, Hohenheim’s curiosity sinks into confusion.

Trisha coos at her sons’ matching marks and smiles.

 

The boys’ soulmarks make their father frown (not that Ed can actually remember him ever smiling), but their mother always smiles when she sees them. When Ed is five, he asks her why.

“Well,” she says, “because those marks mean that there are even more people who are going to love you and Alphonse. And because both of you boys share the same marks, it means you’re tied together even tighter than by blood; you share the family of your souls, too.” And she chuckles at his confused expression, and ruffles his hair.

It isn’t until years later, that Ed realizes how preciously rare her attitude towards soul parents was—how many parents take their children’s soulmarks as a personal slight, or an indication that they’re not enough for them. Ed sees these other families, and is grateful for his mother’s warmth and open-mindedness when he was growing up; he sees those other parents’ jealousy, and remembers how his mom was always so happy for their marks.

He remembers how grateful she had been for them, especially when she was sick.

Even then, she’d smiled, and taken Edward’s hand to trace first the red mark on the back of his wrist, and then the blue one below his palm.

“Because of these marks, I know you boys won’t be alone,” she’d said, as Ed and Al sat at her bedside. “You two will always have parents to look out for you, and to love you, even when I’m not here.”

Al had nodded at her words with tearful eyes, but Ed had tugged his hand away and held his wrist to his chest.

“That’s not the same,” he’d bitten out, his voice trembling, “We want you. And we don’t even know them.”

“Ed,” Mom had said gently, reaching out to him again, “it’s true that they’re not me; they never will be. But they’ll be family, and you two will be okay. They’ll love you. They’re your soul parents.”

And Ed had let her pull him into her arms, and said nothing.

 

Ed’s first soulmark is bright red. It’s a symbol that took him years to put a name to, first stumbling across it in one of his father’s old alchemy books. It’s proper title is the Flamel, and even in those early days, the thought of having an alchemic symbol as the mark of one of his and Al’s soul parents gives him hope. As a young child, he often finds himself holding his hand up above his head to study it, wondering what sort of person has the matching mark emblazoned over their heart.

Winry, Ed knows, has her granny’s mark on her knee; personally, he thinks that’s kind of weird, because how can her granny also be her parent? But he thinks she’s also kind of lucky, since she’s known her soul parent since forever.

But Ed and Al’s soul parents could be anyone, and it could take them years to meet. And even then, according to Granny Pinako, there’s no guarantee they’ll figure out that they’re a match any time soon.

As Ed drops his hand, he places it briefly over his chest, where his own mark rests: a sunflower yellow sun, with twelve rays radiating out. He can feel his heartbeat beneath his fingertips.

His mom has always told him that it’s on his heart because that’s where his soul sits.

“If someone else has your soulmark on them,” she’d say, “that means they have a little piece of you. You’re tied together tighter than anything.”

He isn’t sure, even then, that he exactly likes the idea of being tied to someone he hasn’t met. He is happy as he is, with his mother and brother; the family that he has. But at the same time, he can’t deny his curiosity; the intense desire to know.

 

For Izumi, the appearance of her first soul child’s mark feels like god is spitting in her face. It’s barely been a year since she lost her son, since she lost her chance to ever be a mother, and the bright golden sun on her stomach feels like a mockery. It takes Sig’s gentle hands and gruff, deep voice to calm her. It takes him longer to coax out what upset her.

“Maybe it’s better to look at this a different way,” he says, “I can’t say I know exactly how you’re feeling, but this mark, it could be life’s way of balancing out the bad with good. I wouldn’t write it off just yet.”

His words make sense—they strike a chord, despite herself.   But it still…takes a while. It takes longer than Izumi likes to admit, later, but she comes around. She decides to give this mark—this child, somewhere out there in the world, waiting to meet her—a chance. She’ll give them a chance.

She laughs when the second mark shows up.

(It’s slightly bitter.)

 

Resembool isn’t a place that Izumi and Sig plan on staying for very long. They’re only passing through on their way east when the storm rolls in.

The rain falls fast and heavy, buffeted by the wind and sending droplets almost stinging against her skin. The townspeople bustle around them in a flurry, and when Sig asks, they are told that there’s concern that the riverbanks will overflow; it’s been an exceedingly wet month for much of the country, and the storm had traveled from the north, feeding into the river and swelling its banks as it flowed south.

Izumi exchanges a look with Sig, and without words they join the crowd carrying sandbags. If on the way someone catches sight of the soulmark on her chest and seems taken aback, well, she hardly notices. It’s a small town, after all, and most people aren’t as casually blatant with their soulbonds as Izumi is. But then the levee breaks in front of them, and there’s no time for thought at all.

Izumi strides through the push of the water without hesitation, clapping her hands together and slamming them into the ground. Her alchemy responds immediately, and things seem settled—but then her illness acts up, just as two young boys come barreling out of the crowd.

The boys beg and plead for her to take them as her students, even when she sends them flying with alchemy. Both children are determined and enthusiastic, but while the louder boy seems too focused on convincing her take them on to notice the Flamel, the younger boy’s eyes visibly widen as he sees it.

“Brother,” she hears him whisper as he snags the other’s shirt, holding him back for just a moment before he can race back to her side, “Brother, did you see?”

But his brother only grins before he looks her in the eyes as he says, “So what? We’ve still got to convince her to teach us.”

And then the boys are back, stubbornly latching on to her and clinging despite her protests. And she sees the older boy’s wrist, with its boldly colored marks, and she freezes, just before one of the men working on the levee tells her…that they don’t have any parents. And Izumi…well. That’s it.

She just can’t turn them away.

(But…they do have parents; it’s obvious to see; it’s written right on their skin, and how could that man ever say otherwise when Izumi is right here—?)

But the older boy was right too, after all. Soulbonds are…well, they’re something, but they aren’t everything. The choices that people make matter more. So she takes them on as students, but these boys are going to have to prove themselves to her before she teaches them anything, soulmarks or no.

 

Izumi couldn’t be more grateful for the fact that she didn’t turn those boys away.

Even as they eat her food and scuff her walls, as they holler and run up and down the stairs. Even as her life is completely disrupted, as she and Sig stop traveling so that she can teach them, and she feels more worn down by the end of the day then she has since she faced the Truth. And even as they wave goodbye as they climb aboard the train to Resembool, she thinks that she could never regret that choice. And she’ll see them again, she knows. None of them would have it any other way.

 

It doesn’t really register for Ed until a full day after their failure at human transmutation that he’s lost his soulmarks. But once it does, for a long time all he can do is stare down the empty space where his wrist should be.

Al is in the other room with Granny Pinako; they’re putting together a broth that’s light enough for Ed choke down despite the nauseating pain that’s scrabbling at the edge of his vision.   Granny is trying to keep Al busy, away from haunting Ed’s bedside; away from dwelling on their devastation.

And Ed…sits alone in the bed in the Rockbells’ clinic.

They’ve lost…everything. It feels like everything, all at once; they lost their mother all over again, so horrifically that Ed can still hardly wrap his mind around it. And Al…. They lost Al. Ed lost Al. He’s failed his entire family so terribly that maybe, maybe he deserves to have lost his soul parent’s marks as well. Surely Teacher, after all the lessons she tried to impart to them—which they had abandoned, recklessly, stupidly—surely she would be so disappointed. Would she think, like he does, that maybe…that it was right for them not to hold her mark any longer? The thought hurts, more than he thought it would.

Face crumbling, he wonders if maybe his and Al’s marks have disappeared from her side, like they’ve disappeared from both of their bodies—as if they’d died. Or even worse…if only Ed’s was still there.

He wonders if it’s truly sunken in for Al yet, that on top of losing his body he’s also lost the only concrete evidence that he has soul parents at all.

He wonders how he and Al would be received, if they met their other soul parent now, without having their mark to prove it. After all, in that moment when Teacher had showed them their marks where they sit on her skin, it had felt like something akin to magic. Even for Ed, who looks at concepts of mysticism and fate and laughs, the moment when she had taken his wrist in her hands and held it so gently… acted so uncommonly soft despite her usual attitude…it had been spellbinding. Al had been moved to tears when he laid his hand on his mark where it rested on her stomach. And they…would never have that with their other soul parent.

Their marks were torn away from them, like Al’s entire body had been, and even if they met their other soul parent, they could never have that moment of connection ever again.

 

Al isn’t blinded by the pain like Ed is, after their disastrous attempt at human transmutation. One moment, he’s kneeling beside his brother and screaming in horror, and then the next he’s waking up to Ed’s bleeding form in front of him. And Al panics, of course. He’s disoriented momentarily, if only by what he’s missed (and his body—where is his body?!), but Ed needs him, so he carries his brother out of their house and runs to the only safe place where he knows they can get help.

But then—Ed is out of his hands, and Al is kneeling by the door, and Al is a suit of armor.

He’s…he’s not…human anymore? His body is gone. And he realizes intimately and with the same figurative breath that his soul parent’s marks are gone as well.

Granny Pinako finds him later, once Ed is stable, washing away the blood with her outdoor hose.

“Al,” she says, “can you tell me what happened?”

And Al can’t. Not really because his memory is messed up, although he’s missing time, but because—because he just can’t.

“We messed up,” he says instead, looking down at the damp cloth at the armor’s waist, “We messed up really bad.” And if Al still had his body, this is where he would be crying. He feels like crying, but he can’t, and somehow that makes everything so much worse, all at once.

His hand finds his shoulder, where his soulmarks should be.

“Granny,” he says, “do you have any paint?”

Because Al’s body is gone. The transmutation took it, and it’s gone, and he can’t see how he’ll ever get it back. But, he’s still Alphonse, and Teacher is still his soul mother, and that’s something. All that Al is, is a soul. So he still has that; it’s something that can’t be taken away—he won’t let it. Body or no, the Flamel is a part of him that he’ll fight tooth and nail to keep (because it’s one of the few things that he can).

The next time he sees Ed, he has the Flamel in bright red paint upon his shoulder.

“Teacher’s soulmark?” Ed says. He sounds tired.

“Yes,” Al says softly, “I’m…I’m proud of being Teacher’s soul son, and her student. And maybe…maybe when we meet our other soul parent I’ll feel the same way, but…I don’t even have a body, and I—I lost their soulmark, Ed. I don’t think I even deserve to meet them.”

“I understand,” his brother whispers, and his remaining left hand is fisted in the sheets.

 

Edward Elric detests Colonel Mustang on sight. He’s a manipulative bastard who thinks too highly of both himself and the military that he’s a toady for; he’s the embodiment of a military dog, as teacher would say, and he’d barged into Granny Pinako’s house as if he owned it.

But he also sits down across from Ed and Al, and offers them something that they didn’t even realize they could want. He’s the first one to say that they have the chance of getting their bodies back, and he means it.

So, yeah, Ed detests Roy Mustang. But the man has managed to light a fire in the Elric brothers that is undeniable. For the first time since they made the worst mistake of their lives, Ed and Al have direction again; they have something to work towards; they have hope. Maybe not much hope, not yet, but the more that they learn the more they gain. As Ed struggles through his automail surgery and Al slowly adjusts to the metal frame that he inhabits, they also pour through their father’s alchemy books. They find the first reference to the philosopher’s stone. And after a year has passed, when Ed heads to Central for his State Alchemist Examination, he knows what he wants. He looks Mustang right in the eyes from where he’s observing Ed’s practical demonstration, and then he turns his gaze forward, and he acts.

 

The Hughes’ house is warm, and loud and friendly. It is very much a home, and Ed and Al are always secretly happy when Lieutenant Colonel Hughes invites—and occasionally drags—them over to visit.

Earlier this evening, the brothers had been treated to the show that was Hughes’ struggle to play “here comes the airplane” with Elicia as she refused to eat her dinner. Eventually, Ed had gotten fed up with the spectacle and stepped in, and much to Maes’ over-exaggerated chagrin, he’d managed to convince her to eat within a matter of minutes.

Now Hughes and the boys are gathered in the living room while Gracia is upstairs putting their daughter into bed. Maes is nursing a mug of coffee, and Ed is full and drowsy from dinner and just beginning to feel ready for bed himself, when Hughes speaks:

“Seeing you with my darling Elicia tonight reminds me of the last time Roy came for dinner,” he sighs as he slumps in feigned melancholy despite the fact that he’s hiding a smile, “Usually my wonderful daughter is perfectly well behaved, but she does get excited when we have guests over. She was even more rambunctious the last time; Elicia ignored everything I said, and only listened to Roy…. Though, I suppose it’s only to be expected since she doesn’t get to see him very often.”

He grins openly, and Al says:

“Elicia and Colonel Mustang are close? I didn’t realize.”

To both his and Ed’s surprise, Hughes lights up.

“Close?!” he exclaims, already reaching into his shirt pocket for a stack of photographs, “Of course they’re close! Roy’s her soul parent, after all—here, look at these cute pictures of the two of them together! Aren’t they sweet? You know, only last week she drew a picture of the four of us as a family, and she’s such a good artist—I’ll bet when she grows up, she’ll be famous for her artistic talent.” He pauses for a breath.

“I’ll admit, it’s kind of hard with Roy so far away these days, but I do make sure to keep him updated! He always pretends like it annoys him, but I know he’s actually sad to be all the way in East City, and he likes to know how she’s doing. You wouldn’t think it from looking at him, but Roy’s a good soul father, no matter how awkward he is sometimes. Here, look—here’s another picture of the two of them—isn’t it adorable?”

The Elric brothers are left blinking in shock as Maes shoves another picture at them—this one of Colonel Mustang carrying a slightly younger Elicia on his shoulders, both of them holding small ice-cream cones in their hands.

“That’s—” Ed says, and it comes out somewhat choked, “Yeah. It’s. It’s…cute. Super weird, though.”

Maes laughs, as Al leans forward to get a better look at the photograph.

“What’s weird about it?” Hughes asks, “They’ve got a soulbond, after all. That’s the kind of relationship that should be treasured. Say, you’ve never mentioned it, but do you boys have any soul parents?”

Both Ed and Al flinch almost in unison.

“Uh,” says Ed, cringing back into the sofa, and Al looks down at his hands where they’re clutching his knees. Maes backpedals.

“Sorry,” he says awkwardly, “I didn’t think—I know that some people consider it a personal subject, especially outside of the city. You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”

“No,” Al says, “It’s okay, Mr. Hughes. We…we do have soul parents. Two of them. It’s just that…when I lost my body….”

“My soulmarks were on my arm,” Ed cuts in before Al’s sentence can wilt too pathetically into silence, and he thrusts his automail out in front of him.

“Here, and here,” he says, tapping his wrist, and he refuses to look up at the pitying expression he knows must be on Hughes’ face. “We met one when we were kids—our alchemy teacher.”

“This is her soulmark,” Al says softly, pointing to the painted symbol on his shoulder, “But we didn’t meet the other one before…well, before we lost our marks, and….”

“When we get our bodies back, we’ll find them,” Ed says stoutly, before covering his mouth with a hand to stifle a yawn.

“Sorry.”

“It’s no problem,” Maes says, smiling at Ed, “It’s getting late, isn’t it? Go ahead and head on up to the guest room, you can stay here for tonight.”

“Yeah,” Ed says, accepting the out with good grace, “that sounds good. Al, you want to join me?”

Al shakes his head.

“Not quite yet, Brother. You can go on ahead.”

“Sure,” Ed shrugs, and he troops upstairs, casting Al one last look over his shoulder.

Maes and Alphonse sit in comfortable silence for a moment, before Al says, “It didn’t feel right, you know? To wear our other soulmark, since we lost it before we met them. Do you think that’s wrong?”

Hughes takes a moment to consider the question.

“No,” he says eventually, “I don’t think it’s wrong. I think it’s a choice that’s up to you. I know some of people who never show their soulmarks to anyone, and make sure to always cover them in public. It’s a personal choice. Just do what you think is right.”

Al sighs.

“It was right here, underneath my other one,” he says, “so it was really weird at first, only having one of them. But we left a lot of things behind when we joined the military, and I didn’t think it was right, to just show off their soulmark when I hadn’t met them. Teacher was different, since we were already family, you know? But…do you think, whoever has the salamander soulmark…do you think they would resent the fact that I didn’t paint theirs too?”

He meets Hughes’ eyes to see the man blinking rapidly, his lips pursed very tightly.

“Alphonse…” he begins, “No. No, Al, I don’t think they could ever resent you. Not for something like that. Whoever they are… they’ll understand. Carrying the type of guilt you boys do…they’ll understand why you didn’t want to show off the mark you lost. But! That doesn’t mean that they won’t want you to have it, either. That is…I’m not hi—I’m not them, but I know that they’ll be happy to have you, mark or no. That’s how parents are… So, I promise, they’ll love you, you understand, Al?”

“I—I guess so,” Al say, his voice wobbling, “That’s…. Thank you, Mr. Hughes.”

Maes gives him a smile, and once Al has gone upstairs to join his brother, he just tips back his head and laughs. Then he buries his face in his hands.

 

Ed doesn’t expect to see Mustang when he lands himself in the hospital after the fifth laboratory debacle. The most he expects from the Colonel is maybe a reprimand via a phone call and their usual dose of antagonism (and perhaps the slightest bit of masked concern, but that’s tentative). So Ed is naturally taken off guard when the Bastard himself turns up outside Ed’s hospital room. He’s supposed to be all the way in East City, but here he is; and it’s even more unusual because he’s hesitating in the doorway, when until now, Ed as never seen him even an inch less than obnoxiously overconfident.

Ed is about to jump down his throat about it when he says without preamble:

“Alphonse’s soulmark was a set of wings, wasn’t it.”

It isn’t even a question, and Ed gapes before he blanches.

“What…what the hell, Colonel Bastard?” he says shakily, “How did you—!? You can’t—I mean. There—there is no way that you—!”

(But…he had wondered, hadn’t he? Edward isn’t an idiot, so he had considered—only briefly—practically unconsciously—the absurd possibility that Mustang was the match to Ed and Al’s other mark. But just because he considered it, it didn’t mean anything. And he definitely …absolutely…never would have chosen it.)

Mustang sighs, unbuttons the top of his coat (military blue, just like Ed’s soulmark had been) and tugs down the collar of his shirt to reveal the familiar shape of the salamander mark on his chest.

Ed’s heart gives an uncomfortable sort of flop.

“Sorry to disappoint, Fullmetal,” Mustang says in a voice that’s trying just a little too hard to be casual, “but I am.”

Ed grimaces.

“Shit,” he says, “Look. I mean…” His teeth catch on his bottom lip as he flounders. “I mean…it’s not…that bad. I guess. You’re sure as heck better than my shitty deadbeat of a biological father.”

The words sit awkwardly in the air, before Mustang smirks.

“Aw,” he says, “I knew you really did care, Fullmetal. You know, if you wanted to, you could call me ‘dad.’”

Ed gapes, flushing.

“No way in hell!”

 

Al is giving himself space to think. He and Ed had worked things out, and they were okay now that Al had gotten his head screwed on straight. Still, he’d wanted a little time to regain his equilibrium after their string of guests, and after everything that had happened over the last couple of days.

So, he’d found a secluded hallway, and he thinks that he’s alone.

“Alphonse Elric.”

The voice is sudden, jolting Al out of his thoughts, and he jumps with a metallic clatter.

“Sorry,” Mustang say with a slightly sheepish expression, “didn’t mean to startle you. How are you holding up? I heard about your argument with Edward.”

Al winces.

“That wasn’t my finest moment,” he says softly, “I shouldn’t have let an enemy get into my head, it was stupid…. But it’s just so hard sometimes…you know…” he hesitates, “…not feeling human. It isn’t so different from not feeling real.”

“Hey,” the colonel says, and then he’s moving forward to give a gentle knock to Al’s helmet, “you’re very real.”

“Thanks,” Al says, and Mustang shoots a subtle glance around the hallway, before looking down to unbutton the cuff of his shirtsleeve to push the fabric up.

And there, on his forearm, is Al’s pair of wings. They’re just like Al remembered them, and they sit plainly on the colonel’s skin.

“So you never doubt again,” Mustang says.

And Al looks from Mustang’s serious face, to back down at the wings again, and shakily—tentatively— reaches out to brush the mark with a gloved hand.

“That’s me,” he whispers, voice thick, and looks up in time to see the soft look in the colonel’s eyes.

“Thank you Colonel Mustang. You didn’t have to….”

“Nonsense,” Mustang says, “Just remember that I wouldn’t have had this mark on my arm for fourteen years if you weren’t a real boy, Al.”

He pauses consideringly.

“But you know?” he says, “Even if somehow, in some other reality, you weren’t real—if everything had been a lie? That wouldn’t change a damn thing to me. You’d still be the Alphonse Elric that I know.”

And he reaches up; clasps Al briefly on the shoulder. Al looks down at him, and if he had a heart, he knows it would be racing.

“Colonel…” he says, and stumbles over his words, “I…your mark….”

Mustang huffs.

“It isn’t really the marks, you know,” he says, “that tie us together. It’s our choices. Even if you’d never had my mark at all, you can bet that I’d still be supporting you and your brother. So don’t over think it too much; it’s not a bond that brought us here, it’s the fact that you’re you and I’m me.”

“But!” Al says, and he agrees with Mustang’s words—he does—but, “Ah, but…I still…. The thing is, when I painted my other mark, I hadn’t met you yet. But now….”

“Alphonse, it’s fine,” Mustang says, “if you want to wait until you get your body back, then do that. Maybe it’s even a good idea; you’ve gotten wrapped up in some trouble, and it could be wise to keep our bond under wraps. There’s a reason I keep my marks hidden beyond propriety, you know.”

And Al…hadn’t even thought of that; it’s a surprisingly terrifying idea, that their soulbonds could be used against them.

“Okay,” he whispers, and Mustang’s expression falls.

“I don’t mean to scare you—”

“It’s fine. It’s like you said; the actual marks aren’t what matter, it’s us.”

“It’s us,” the colonel echoes, and taps Al’s hollow chest, “remember it.”

 

It had been Maes who had called Roy up while he was struggling through a stack of paperwork as high as his waist.

When Roy had snatched up the phone like the lifeline it was, he hadn’t expected to hear his friend on the other end—he wasn’t scheduled to call until the end of the week—but it had come as a welcome relief.

“Hughes, what’s Elicia done this time?” he asked, his amusement audible. But for once his friend hadn’t waxed poetic about his daughter.

“Ed’s in the hospital, Roy,” Maes had said, “Some things have been happening. It’s serious,” and Roy felt his pulse hitch up with is breath.

“What?” he’d demanded over the phone, and he could hear the edge in Maes’s voice.

“You’d better come up,” he’d said, “You should be there for those boys.”

Maes hadn’t said a word about soulbonds, or about the conclusions he had drawn; Roy had come running anyway. Lieutenant Hawkeye had arranged it with lightning speed when she’d heard the news, with the condition that he not use this as an excuse to shirk his duties.

It is that warning that has him hurrying back to Eastern Command after checking on Ed and Al (and damned if Maes hadn’t left out the details of Ed’s condition to motivate him; and damned if it hadn’t worked).

…Yet only a few days later, he’ll wish that he had stayed just a little longer; that he had ignored his Lieutenant’s threats and taken the time to catch up with his friend, to be there for him. And at the same time, he’ll be glad that Ed and Al weren’t in Central for that. He’ll be so, so glad that they’d left the city to go visit their alchemy teacher; that they were far away from any danger, and…for just a little while longer…any heartache too.

 

Ed has an ability to bounce back from things that Al is honestly kind of jealous of. Oh, it’s not that his brother isn’t affected by the bad stuff that they experience, because he is, but Ed just doesn’t seem dwell on it like Al does.

But then again, maybe that’s just because Al has so much more time to think. Which is how he finds himself outside at night, sitting alone in Teacher’s yard while Ed is curled up in bed.

Teacher had…disowned them. And things are okay now; Sig had explained that it was okay to come back here and they had…but…somehow it still feels like a loss to Al. That moment had felt like a reaffirmation of all of his fears, and it’s still all he can think about as his brother sleeps alone in the bedroom they’d shared as Teacher’s students.

It was quiet, inside—too quiet, too familiar despite everything that’s changed—and so Al had slipped into the yard. It’s…a little better. There are more sounds out here, and even if he can’t feel the breeze, he can still see it rustling the tree leaves.

Watching the branches sway, he pulls his knees to his chest and leans back against the house.

That’s how Teacher finds him, when she looks outside.

“Alphonse?” she says curiously, leaning out through the doorway, “Why are you outside in the middle of the night?”

Al jumps.

“T—T—Teacher!” he stammers out as she comes over to him, “It’s…It’s nothing. I…. What are you doing up?”

She ignores the question and looks down at him with furrowed eyebrows.

“Al,” she says slowly, dropping into a crouch beside him, “you can talk to me, you know.”

He shifts his eyes away and his shoulders hitch slightly up.

“It was just…quiet. You know, was boring inside. Being outdoors is always better, because there’s usually something going on. Sometimes, if I’m really still, I can get squirrels or birds to come up close, or walk on the armor. It’s…nice.”

Teacher sighs and reaches put a hand on his shoulder, only to stop. Al follows her gaze to the painted mark.

“Oh,” he says.

“Didn’t you have two?” she asks, and there’s something odd in her tone, “Where’s your other parent’s soulmark?”

Al looks down at his feet.

“Oh,” he says again, his voice smaller, “That’s…I didn’t…I mean. You, um. You’re Teacher. Yours is the one that I couldn’t—that it would’ve felt wrong to lose.”

He glances in her direction, and then stares.

Teacher is wearing an expression that he hasn’t seen on her before. She looks…fragile, almost. It’s not quite the same as the one he’d seen on her face earlier: uncommonly soft and gentle; so soft, as she’d held them, before she had told them to get out.

Reaching out, her fingers brush the bright red paint that Al so carefully reapplies with every scratch or scuff mark. Then, surging forward, she wraps her arms around him again.

“I’m so sorry, Alphonse,” she whispers as he goes stiff in her arms, “I shouldn’t have…I was more angry at myself than I was at you two. You were only children, and you were my responsibility. You boys…you will always be welcome here; I will always be glad to have the two of you, no matter what form you come in.”

And, it’s awkward; Al is still sitting with his knees pulled up, and Teacher is half-kneeling beside him. And he knows that the armor must be cold and sharp, but she holds him close like he’s still flesh and blood.

Al can’t feel it, not really, but somehow it’s the warmest he’s been in a long time.

 

In the morning, Ed and Izumi stumble out of their beds to the smell of cooking bacon and a low chatter of voices coming from the kitchen.

Ed is still bleary from sleep as he sits down at the table to watch Sig and Al work together at the stove. His younger brother’s voice is high and cheery this morning, which is good; Ed had been a little worried last night, but Al seems to have worked it out on his own. Beside him, Teacher inhales her mug of coffee.

“Didn’t get enough sleep last night?” he asks, and Teacher frowns.

“No,” she says, “I haven’t really been in the best shape this week.” She eyes him over her coffee.

“It’s aggravating,” she says, “because I have a lot I need to do. Say, you and Al can stay as long as you want, but as long as you’re here, I’m putting you to work. I don’t know how long your precious military superiors will be willing to part with you, so we might as well make the most of it. You can start by sweeping the steps after breakfast.”

“Ugh, fine,” Ed grouses as he loads his plate with bacon and eggs, “The brooms are still in the same place, right?”

He doesn’t really mind, of course. Teacher has been more sick than usual this visit, so he and Al probably would’ve volunteered to help out anyway.

As if summoned by the thought, Al comes to stand behind him, looming over his back.

“What Brother means to say, is that we’d be happy to help,” he says, and he deliberately sets a jug of milk on the table. Ed looks up at Al.

“That better not be for me,” he says sharply, and all eyes in the room turn to fixate on him.

“No way am I drinking any of that disgusting stuff!” he cries, and the stares only get worse until he can feel himself begin to sweat. Teacher looks him straight in the eyes as she lifts up the jug to pour out a glass. Damn it.

 

Roy Mustang has three soulmarks; three soul children.

The first one appears when he’s fourteen years old, and for a moment, as he blinks down at the golden-yellow sun on his forearm, he thinks that it’s another soul parent’s mark. But then he realizes its smaller size in comparison with the mark he bares above his heart, and he’s—he’s floored. He feels as if the ground has dropped out from under him.

Because surely—surely he’s too young? He can’t be a parent! He’s barely more than a kid, barely mastering his alchemy—he barely knows what he wants to do with his life.

Riza finds him standing out on the grass, sleeves pushed up to fight the summer heat, staring down at his arm.

“Are you all right?” she asks her father’s student, and Roy’s head whips towards her. Within moments, he has latched onto her, and wails,

“I’m too young to be a father!”

Riza stares at him. Says slowly:

“You…knocked somebody up?”

Roy sputters.

“What—no! No, no! It’s—” he thrusts his forearm towards her, “—this! I have a kid! A soul kid! Somewhere. And I don’t even know them, and I’m not ready to be a parent, because you know me, I can hardly even take care of myself—!”

She grips his shoulder.

“Breathe,” she says, lips quirking into a little grin, “a soul child isn’t the end of the world. You probably won’t even meet them for years, because, like you said, you’re not ready to be a parent yet. So calm down.”

Roy deflates under her steady gaze.

“Right—right. Of course you’re right,” he says, “It won’t be until I’m ready. Right. I knew that.”

Riza snorts a laugh, and Roy grins roguishly.

“I bet I have the coolest soul kid ever, though,” he declares, “and I’ll be a fantastic soul parent. Just you wait! It’ll be no sweat.”

He says that, but when his second soulmark shows up barely a year later, he freaks out even more.

(Two children! Two! One was bad enough, but how is he supposed to look out for two kids…??

…Well, they can’t get into that much trouble, can they?

…They’ll just be two kids…. And by that point he’ll definitely be a strong alchemist. He’s already pretty good. So.

Yeah, he’s totally got this covered.)

 

Roy’s doubts resurface again. It’s during the long days when he’s knee deep in sand and blood and he’s never felt less worthy in his life. On even longer nights, he studies the delicate pictograms on his arm, and wonders what kind of child would need a man like him.

It’s Maes who sits beside him, then, to ease him out of his self-perpetuating worries. It’s Maes who makes him laugh, and helps him imagine a future that is after.

 

On the day Roy’s third soul child’s mark appears, Maes grins at him and says, “Good thing we were planning on making you the godfather anyway.”

And Roy hesitates, looking at his best friend’s glowing expression, and then back down at baby Elicia, who has a tiny salamander marked on her pudgy leg.

“Are…you sure?” he says, and Maes exchanges a look with Gracia.

“Roy,” he says slowly, “you were always going to be a big part of her life. This just means that there’s something about you, specifically, that she’s going to need. Maybe she’ll want to be an alchemist. Maybe she’ll just want a relatively sane father to balance out her nutty old man. Heck! Who knows? Maybe she’ll want to rule a country of her own, and she’ll need advice from the great Roy Mustang, Fuhrer of Amestris! The soulmark doesn’t make us count any less, you know…it just gives her more.”

Beside them, Gracia is poorly attempting to cover her amusement with her hand, and when Maes grins, Roy can’t help but smile back.

“Okay,” he says, “Okay. But just…just don’t expect, well, too much of me.” He looks both of the new parents in the eye. “I might be able to handle ‘back-up dad,’ or ‘weird uncle—slash—alchemy teacher,’ but you’re still her Dad, dad. I’m not, you know, good at…kids and stuff.”

“Yeah,” Maes chuckles, “We know. But just look at her. Don’t you want to be?

He’s not wrong.

“Well, who’s to say I won’t be too busy running the country, anyway?”

 

When Roy’s eyesight is restored after everything, the first person he sees is Riza.

He goes to speak, but before he can even say a word the first lieutenant shakes her head, takes his arm, and leads him out of the medical tent. For a moment he’s confused, but she just shushes him and pushes him towards a group of people standing a short distance away.

Roy takes in the group, and his eyes catch on Edward’s golden hair. But then he sees Al.

For the first time, Roy can see what Alphonse Elric looks like, and it takes his breath away. The Elric brothers are standing side by side, and they look so much alike that it’s astounding. They’re surrounded by their friends, standing beside their alchemy teacher, and their bodies…they’re restored.

And then he sees the soulmarks emblazoned on Ed and Al’s skin, and he just—stops. That’s his mark—his mark—on Ed’s flesh and blood wrist, and Al’s bare shoulder. His salamander, bright blue against their pale, un-tanned skin, strikingly obvious.

Almost unconsciously, he finds himself walking forward.

The group turns with smiles as he joins them, and Al’s eyes immediately light up as they catch his drifting to the soulmark on his upper arm. Immediately the younger boy reaches out; he takes Roy’s hand and grins.

“It’s okay,” he says, “I understand. It doesn’t quite feel real, does it?”

Roy shakes his head mutely, and Al places his fingers over the mark on his shoulder.

For a moment, Roy holds it there, stunned, as the others watch with understanding looks. Al is whole, and real, and warm. This is his son, standing in front of him.

He looks up, looks Al in the eyes (they are a soft honey-brown, darker than Edward’s but just as warm) and Al smiles. The expression suits him.

Roy smiles back.

“So, it turns out that you’re still taller than Fullmetal, huh?” he says, and then he laughs as everything falls into beautiful chaos.

 

Bonus:

Hohenheim doesn’t really understand soulbonds—he’s never had one after all. But he does know that in and of themselves, they are neither good, nor bad, nor the be-all and end-all when it comes to relationships.

For instance, he knows that the Dwarf in the Flask has seven “soul children” in his homunculi, and their relationship isn’t one of love by any means. An empty, artificial, one-way bond…if one like that could exist, then how much value does a soulmark have?

And he knows that he and Trisha did and do love their sons even without having soulmarks to prove it. He’s been around a lot longer than most, and has born witness to relationships from friendly to familial, to parental to romantic; he doesn’t understand why only one type is put on the pedestal that parental soulbonds are. And he doesn’t understand how the marks originate, only that they do…but then, that’s all anyone knows about them.

However, when Hohenheim sees his sons beside their soul parents, he finally does understand one thing:

That they are good for Edward and Alphonse.

(And in the end, that’s all that really matters, isn’t it? All he can be, is grateful for the fact that his sons have had them.)