Ed is fifteen, the first time it happens, and he does what he does best.
He’s talking with Al as they tie up some random second-rate fraud of an alchemist, debating on whether Gracia’s apple pie is better or if Winry’s is objectively the best, when a wave of dizziness crashes over him and threatens to drag him under. He stumbles as he tries to stand while Al walks towards the entrance of the alleyway, still talking about the merits of Gracia’s apple pie. A thousand black dots swarm his vision like bumblebees in a hive. He forces himself to stay upright, even as he sways and feels as if a puff of wind will shove him over like a ragdoll.
When Al turns back around, he’s smiling through a grimace, a white-knuckled grip tightening surreptitiously on the cold stone walls of the alley.
The spells of dizziness don’t stop. They keep coming and coming, sometimes when he least expects it. He’s fighting another criminal when it hits again, and it’s all he can do to not fall on his knees, all his strength going into not falling over and not getting stabbed and most importantly, not fucking dying.
He brushes it off when he finally manages to get the goddamn guy in handcuffs, trying to ignore the churning feeling in his gut.
It all comes to its head one random day as he makes his way down the stairs of some library in central, a couple of research books in his hand and a sandwich shoved haphazardly in his mouth. The black dots hit him like a freight train, then the dizziness kicks in a half-second later, the train stomping on the brakes with an almighty screech before backing up and running him over. He almost falls, and his teeth clench down around the shout that bubbles up from his lungs, the air knocked out of him like a punch to the gut. The only thing that saves him is his hand as it drops all of his books and lashes out for the closest thing in reach- some guy sitting on the stairs (who even does that?) and almost brings both of them crashing to the stone steps. The guy lets out a yelp of surprise, but Ed is so focused on not blacking out that all he can offer up is a grunt of what must sound like pain.
“Oh my god!” The guy yells. “Are you okay? Do I need to call the hospital?” He panics, hands everywhere at once, trying to hold him up, trying to help, but not knowing how. But Ed, for Ed, the world spins and creaks and distorts until it roars in his ears, scattering all thought and logic. The steps move under his feet, even though he knows that’s impossible, and it’s only because he has the help of his unmoveable automail leg that he doesn’t get more acquainted with the floor.
He’s hissing things under his breath, trying to get the guy fussing and shouting over him to stop because his voice is too fucking loud, when suddenly a memory flits to the front of his mind, and his mother is clutching onto the kitchen table, leaning on it as if her legs do not exist, her face pale and strained, waving away his worries with a smile that looks more like a grimace and words that are so weak that they’re barely even there.
He freezes, even as the past fades away back to the stone stairs in front of the library and the guy who is still holding on for dear life as if he will collapse if he doesn’t.
No, he thinks. No.
He’s sick and the doctors don’t know what it is, but they say that it is just stress, just an off day, and that he will be just fine, but he is not just fine, because that’s what they told mom, and now… now she’s nothing more than a body, buried in the soil, a memory of a night, where everything went wrong, and he wonders if this is what they prescribed her; nothing but lies and fake assurances, and if she believed them, believed them, until she realized that there was nothing that they could do.
He’s sick and the doctors tell him he’s fine, but he knows that he’s dying.
He walks out of the cathedral, and it looks fine on the outside, it looks fine, but inside he knows that it is a maze of slabs of rock and spikes and stones and a priest who was nothing but a liar. His lungs are heaving and the familiar feeling that the world has tipped sideways greets him as he trudges outside and tries not to look as if he is falling apart inside. (He is the cathedral. He is fine, fine, fine, on the outside, he is feisty and young and strong, but on the inside he is twisted, he is a sinner, he is dying-)
Rose falls to her knees, and the sun colors her skin red like blood, like the stone, like the alchemy circle that night, and then she is crying, the tears only welling up stronger and faster until it overflows, spilling out from her eyes in a wave of agony.
“Stand up and walk. Keep moving forward. You've got two good legs. So get up and use them.” He tells her, and he knows he sounds tired, too tired, knows he sounds too old for his age, but then again, he is also fifteen and he is dying. “You're strong enough to make your own path.” He knows she is, knows she has to be, and that hurts.
He leaves, and the sun is setting, the world is dyed crimson, and when he looks back, for just a moment, to see Rose heave herself back onto her feet, he thinks that she will be just fine.
For a moment, he wishes he could have feet like hers, feet, that wouldn’t threaten to give up on him every day of the week, feet, that weren’t mismatched from a mistake that he would carry forever, feet, that would be able to support him until the day when he could look back and feel safe and happy and alive.
But these are the ones he’s stuck with.
These are the ones that will carry him to the bitter end.
He couldn’t save Nina, he couldn’t save Nina, he couldn’t save Nina.
She’s dead, bleeding out on the floor of her very own house, morphed into some creature that isn’t a dog but isn’t a human, bleeding out on the hard wooden floor next to a father who hurt her, who used her, who turned his own daughter into a chimera-
Ed is sick and he’s dying and yet somehow the most important thing he can think of through the haziness in his mind, the ache in his ports, is that hecouldn’t save Nina.
Scar is chasing them and it's all he can do to get in a wheezing breath through the squeezing feeling in his lungs, the rain that pours down upon his skin, and the crazy serial killer who wants to kill him. His scars (ha, his scars) pull at his skin like a wretched game of tug of war, and no matter what he tries to make, Scar destroys.
The birth of something new, then it's immediate destruction.
The rain runs down his arms and tangles in his hair, flinging it into his eyes with every painful step of his automail, blinding him even as he almost trips over his own feet. He runs and runs and runs until he feels as if his entire being will shatter into pieces and his port feels as if it is on fire. It burns, blazes a bright, roaring hurricane through his head, disrupting his thoughts and turning the whole world into swimming lines of black and white. Bile stings at the back of his throat.
Suddenly, they’re in an alleyway, it’s a dead-end, they're trapped, and Scar breaks Al into pieces.
He screams. He screams until his throat feels numb, and yet he can barely hear himself over the pounding in his ears, the white noise that seems to fall with the rain. He screams and fights and hopes that the sting in his eyes is not tears, because he is dizzy, dizzy and the world is spinning and dancing around him, and everything hurts. Scar breaks his arm, shatters his only defense into pieces, but the only thing that he can think through the screeching madness that is his roiling and tumbling mind, as the gears that Winry spent hours and hours slaving over scatter across the floor, is Winry is going to kill me, if I don't die here first.
The heavens must be crying for him, because he knows this is the end.
Scar only walks closer and closer to him, and he gives up, because this means that Al will have a chance to live, Al will have a chance to get his body back and eat and sleep and laugh and love and- there’s no point to his death because he’s dying anyways and what’s it matter if he dies now, here, instead of a couple months later? What does it matter if he dies here or tomorrow or a year later, when he knows he won’t live to see twenty?
He holds his port and feels the pain, crashing across his battered body like a tsunami, dragging him under, into submission. It's all he can do not to vomit weakly in front of this man who has been corrupted by vengeance, it's all he can do to wait for Scar to kill him. He wonders if he will bleed on the wet, wet stone below him, if the ground will be stained crimson with his blood. He wonders whether he will be buried here in central, as a soldier, or if Al will bury him next to his mother.
Yes, he thinks idly, watching Scar’s hand reach closer and closer to his face. I’d like that. To be buried next to mom.
But then there's a bullet, whizzing past his ear, nearly shooting Scar in the chest; the Colonel and Hawkeye and everyone is here. They're here. He’s not dying today.
He’s not dying yet.
Dr. Marcoh’s eyes are haunted and brimming with stories of shadows and darkness. His voice is shaky and his hands are twitchy as if expecting someone to bust down the door and start shooting at him at any moment. The wrinkles around his eyes speak volumes of his life, and his silence speaks for more than Ed could ever say with a thousand words.
Dr. Marcoh is a haunted, hollow shell of a human being, but he still tries to atone for every horrible thing his eyes show. He doesn’t tell him anything. Ed respects that.
On the train, he finds a paper in his pocket.
He’s in Resembool and Granny makes stew for dinner. It tastes like gravel but it’s his favorite food in the whole wide world, so he shoves his spoon into his mouth over and over and over again and tries on to gag.
Granny pats his back later that night as everything comes back up the wrong way, retching weakly into the toilet basin. Armstrong is outside somewhere in the back, Winry is sleeping, and Al is still in his box, broken. Nobody hears them or sees them as Granny holds back his hair and gently hands him a rag to wipe his face after the bathroom stops sinking and his stomach stops wailing.
“How long?” Is all she asks him, because no matter how much he tries to hide it, Granny always knows; Granny’s seen this before, in his mother. And Ed, Ed doesn’t try to hide it. His rational mind knows that there is no point trying to hide it from her, that by telling her, he could ask her about mom. But some small part of him just wants to tell her. He wants to tell her because he is scared. He is so scared of dying, of fading away, of being buried in the mud forever. He is scared and he is dying and he is fifteen.
“A couple of months.” He says hoarsely. Granny’s eyes narrow behind her glasses, and her mouth pulls into a grimace. He twists the rag between his fingers, staring down at the white cloth.
“You haven’t told Alphonse.” She states, and she sounds so reprimanding that Ed has to choke down tears.
“There’s no point. He can’t help me. No reason for him to worry.” He replies instead, and suddenly he feels a thousand years old. The rag is scratchy. He is all too aware of the emptiness at his right shoulder.
“...He won’t appreciate that, Ed.” She says, and Ed knows. He knows, just like he knows a lot of things. Sometimes, he thinks that he might know too many things for his own good.
“Yeah,” He says quietly, looking up at her eyes sadly. “I know.”
All that’s left of the first branch is a pile of ash. Marcoh’s books are hidden beneath piles and piles of rubble. Defeat claws at his chest and for a beat, desperation sends his heart sinking to his gut.
Sheska is a rare spark of luck that Ed hasn’t had in a while. Hope flickers back to life, deep in his stomach, a fragile, whispery flame, weaker than that of a candlelight. The research notes are hidden behind a code that’s so complex and winding that it takes them forever to even find a starting point. The candles are burning to the bottom, the books are stacked around them like a fort of words and letters and sentences, and Ed’s head spins like a mini-carousel.
Still, he reads and decodes, theorizes and spends long, sleepless nights sitting in a ridged, hard wooden chair, his legs going numb and his fingers aching from holding his pencil. His head pounds and it gets harder and harder to control his breathing.
Find the truth hidden within the truth.
He keeps reading.
Philosopher stones are made of human souls. Thousands upon thousands of humans.
He feels sick. The world shrieks in his ears, the silence eating him alive.
He’s been looking for a philosopher's stone this whole time. To get back Al’s body, to get back his arm and his leg, to save his own life. But now…
If he finds a philosopher’s stone, he can’t use it. He won’t use it.
He’s going to die, he can’t save Al, and God hates him.
He gets stabbed in the fifth laboratory. It explodes. There’s nothing left.
The hospital lights only succeed on giving him migraines and Al thinks that he’s fake. A puppet. Made by him.
He wants to throw up.
He put Al in that body, he killed mom a second time, he tried to encroach upon God’s territory and he paid the price. He is lying to everybody close to him. He is going to die. He is going to die and leave Al behind on his own and Al hates him. Al hates him and is going to hate him for dying, and everything is his fault.
He hates himself for fearing that so much.
Rush Valley is hot and humid and the sun burns acid into his automail. He screams and laughs and tries to forget the pain that creeps up from where he tries to stomp it down, deep in the guts of his stomach. Winry is smiling and happy and he can’t bring himself to say it, to say anything.
It hurts and it’s raining and Winry has just delivered a baby, and it’s so incredible to imagine, so impossible to think that this life, this breathing, living soul could be created from nothing, from just a simple person, exceeding the limits of equivalent exchange and doing what alchemy couldn’t even come close to doing. There’s a baby, a baby, and a mother who has defied equivalent exchange because she is still just fine, and she is not missing a leg.
There is a baby, who is living and breathing and so, so, alive, and for some reason, in the midst of all of the joy and amazement of everyone around him, he can’t help but feel a twinge of sorrow, something deep and empty pulling the corners of his lips down and leaving his eyes dark and haunting.
Because here is a baby, living and breathing and so, so, alive, and no one knows when it’s going to die.
Teacher takes one look at them and promptly flips him over her shoulder and throws him into the wall. It stings, the impact, and it steals what little air he has in his lungs. When they tell her of what they have done, she beats them black and blue and it hurts, the bruises, on top of the aching of his muscles and the heaviness in his lungs. And then she hugs them and she feels so much like mom that for a moment, Ed feels like he is five years old again, as if he will burst into tears, but instead he closes his eyes and swallows down everything that threatens to burst out from under his skin. There’s blood on his teeth and iron in the back of his throat, but Teacher knows that feeling all too well, and here in her arms it almost feels as if the aches and the pain and the bruises fade away, just a little.
Later, after Al disappears into the butcher shop, he tells her everything.
“How do you deal with that iron taste in your mouth all the time, Teacher?” He asks her, and she stares at him with eyes that are too knowing and an expression that is too weary.
“What?” She asks him, and he can hear the hint of dread in her voice, as if she already knows what he will say but dreads that he will say it.
Instead, he replies, “Did you know, that philosopher’s stones are made with human souls?” And listens to her sharp gasp of breath.
“Yeah.” He says, when she doesn’t reply.
“Why are you telling me this?” She asks him, after a long beat of silence, both of them staring out into the vast night sky, the stars twinkling somewhere far, far away.
“I just have a bad gut feeling. Maybe something will happen, someone will die, I dunno.”
“I’m already dying, Edward.” She says, and he makes up his mind. He turns his head, looks up at her and smiles in a way that’s all grim sadness and haunting acceptance.
“That’s funny,” There’s nothing funny about it. “Me too.” He says, and the words seem to hang in the air and dance around them with the warm summer breeze. Teacher sucks in a breath and her eyes widen in what almost looks like grief, before she lets out a little puff of a sigh and looks away, squeezing her eyes shut.
The frogs creak from somewhere along the riverside, as the silence lengthens into a comfortable, bleak atmosphere. The stars shimmer like beacons and the crescent moon turns everything silver.
“Strawberry mints.”Izumi says suddenly, startling him.
“Huh?” He says, caught off guard.
“You asked how I deal with the taste of blood in my mouth. Strawberry mints. I have some on me at all times. It washes away the taste of blood really well.” She explains, and for once, her voice is soft, and her eyes even softer.
She reaches into her pocket and offers him a pack.
She is dying.
He is too.
Al is captured by monsters, chimeras, and that reminds him so much of Nina that it almost brings him to his knees. There is a guy by the name of Greed and he is- impossible, he shouldn’t, can’t exist, he- he has an impenetrable shield and there’s blood behind Ed’s eyes and his skin and his throat, and everything hurts.
Mom was a little over twenty when she got sick. He is fifteen. But mom lived a safe life in the countryside, hanging laundry and washing dishes and making stew. He is in the military, traveling the country, fighting criminals, fighting monsters.
He’s thrown into the wall and punched in the gut and there’s the familiar trickle of blood as it drips down his chin. His scars ache with such ferocity that it feels as if his skin is being ripped apart. His head pounds and the world swims around him, but he still roars as he claps his hands together and punches Greed to kingdom come. Everything hurts and he’s tired, tired, but Greed is a homunculus, and he just gets up and up and up again.
They’re two men, uncaring of death, because one cannot die and the other is already dying.
It’s then, that Teacher busts down the door and the military comes knocking at the front door.
Hughes is dead.
Hughes is dead, and no one had known that he was going to die. Not even himself.
It’s scary, how someone you thought were always going to be there can suddenly just… die. Just. Like. That.
He wonders if he’s going to die like that. He wonders if Al is going to mourn for him just like he is mourning Hughes. He wonders if he’s going to be promoted when he dies, too. He wonders if it will rain on the day of his funeral.
He wonders and wonders and wonders and he may be the youngest state alchemist in history, may be a prodigy and a genius, may have seen much, too much for his age, but he’s still just fifteen and it’s hard to choke down the fear and regret that bubbles up inside of him like blood.
Hughes is dead.
It’s his fault.
Hughes is dead.
Hughes is dead and Ed is going to join him in his grave in less than a year.
Sixteen comes and goes, and Ed spends the night coughing up what feels like half of the blood in his body into his glove in a deep corner of the library where nobody would ever come wandering and Al wouldn’t even think to find him. His lungs burn and his eyes water but he’s sworn to himself that he won’t cry, dammit.
His glove is soaked and dripping with his own blood.
Hours later, when the attack finally dies down, he wonders, not for the first time, how mom did this, all those years ago. How she hid it and acted like everything was fine even when her own body was falling apart on her. How she smiled and laughed and talked and moved like her legs were not trembling underneath her dress and how she never cried about how she was inexplicably dying. Or perhaps she did cry, alone in the night, scared and alone and dying.
He’s not crying.
He’s not going to cry.
He’s sick and he’s dying and he still has so much to do before he can let himself slip away.
His fingers are trembling and his throat feels like ash and his glove seeps red in his hands, but still, he forces himself to his feet, because Al and the Colonel and Amestris are depending on him, because there are monsters out there, in the dead of the night, and like hell is he dying before he can make sure that everything is going to be alright.
He stands and he walks away and ignores that he is dying, smiles in front of Al and in front of Winry and everybody else that he cares about (that care for him), but...
But there’s a pack of strawberry mints burning a hole in his pocket and an ache in his lungs that never goes away.
The Colonel killed Ross.
The Colonel killed Ross before her time, and it’s not fair, because he thought he could trust him, he trusted him, he thought he was…. something. Good, kind, someone… someone he would have followed into hell, someone he would have died for.
Roy Mustang killed Maria Ross.
Roy Mustang killed Maria Ross, and somehow that hurts even more than the pain in his bones and the blood in his throat and the strawberry mints that rest in his mouth.
The Colonel killed Ross.
The Colonel saved Ross, and she is alive and sweaty and smiling and she isn’t dead.
His automail burns, the blood in his throat coats his tongue and he can’t grin because he isn’t sure whether his teeth are bloody or not. It’s too hot that what water might have come to his eyes are all dried up, but he is a second away from hurling himself into Ross’s arms, and he has never felt more grateful in his whole life-
Roy Mustang saved Maria Ross.
He saved her.
He may be dying, but he owes Mustang his entire life.
There is a transmutation circle in the ruins of Xerxes and for some reason, something about it sends shivers up his spine. The sickly sweet taste of the strawberry mints run down his tongue as he pops one in, studying the circle. A part of him, deep down, wants to destroy it, knows that it is nothing good, knows that it caused destruction and pain and took the lives of thousands, but there are chunks ripped out of it and lost forever, and he knows that he couldn’t decipher it now even if he tried.
Ishvalans pour out of the ruins and glare at him out of the corners of their eyes and there is a little Ishvalan boy, hiding behind his grandfather with loss in his eyes and ghosts over his shoulders and Ed knows that they have lost more than he could ever imagine.
An elderly woman stops a man from fighting him, and he is grateful, because he is tired, has been tired for months and months and months, and he has lost things that they could never imagine as well.
They have lost their culture and their people and their homes.
He has lost his parents and his brother and his entire childhood and his whole future.
Those may not be equivalent, but it sure as hell still hurts.
Hohenheim is home and standing before the grave of his mother, and tells him that he is running away, and it’s true, but how dare he.
How dare he.
He wan’t here when mom died, wasn’t here for mom’s funeral, wasn’t here when he and Al were orphans, wasn’t here that night when everything went wrong, wasn’t here for his automail surgery, wasn’t here when the Colonel came by, and he sure as hell wasn’t here when he fucking found out that he’s fucking dying, and he has no right to be here and tell him that he is running away.
And then Hohenheim almost reaches out to run his fingers through his hair as he lies in bed and tries not to vomit into the covers of his sheets and tries to swallow the taste of blood on his tongue. Ed freezes as Hohenheim halts, his fingers just inches away from his face, and Ed doesn’t know what kind of expression is on Hohenheim’s face (regret, regret, regret), but he can feel the hesitation, the sorrow, and the undeniable space between them, because he used to love his father, used to beg him to play with him, used to bug him in his study, used to want to make him proud. Because still, no matter how much he denies it, he still loves him and loves him and loves him and that’s why he hates him because why did you leave me alone? Why, why, why… was I not good enough?
And then Hohenheim leaves and Ed slips out after him because… because there’s something churning in his stomach and he wants to know where
dad that bastard is going.
Something inexplicable clenches in his chest, writhing and boiling. There's blood, pushing at his eyes, roaring in his ears, and all of a sudden, his world has been turned upside down, for what feels like the millionth time. It feels like he's choking. It feels like he's choking on the blood that he knows is building in the back of his throat until all of the breath is gone from his lungs the world melts away like some weird fever dream.
This is dream. It has to be.
It can't be true-
It’s raining and it hurts and it hurts and it hurts and there’s blood in his mouth and it stains his teeth and he absolutely denies that the wetness on his cheeks are tears, but he digs his shovel into the earth again and again and again because he has to know.
It can’t be.
There’s fire in his bones and blood in his throat and the skin connecting his port pulls, but he can’t stop now. He brings the shovel down and down and down again, and just being here brings back memories of that day, and how foolish he had been, thinking he could play God. He vomits blood on the side and Granny’s eyes fill with anguish and worry but she doesn’t try to stop him because she knows. She knows everything.
They dig and dig and dig, and it rains and rains and rains and he’s drowning and stumbling as the world spins and distorts and sinks around him. But then his shovel hits bone, and he’s falling to his knees because suddenly his head is weak and his legs are shaking. The mud beneath his fingers clog in his automail but he doesn’t care; all that matters is the hair that he picks up in his hands. He almost falls standing up because the black dots are becoming too much, but he swallows down the blood and screams at his legs to move, because he may be dying, but this is so much more than that.
He washes the blood and the dirt and the rain away in a bucket of water, and the hair- the hair is- black.
Mom had… Mom had chestnut hair.
The bones are too long and too big and too male.
He didn’t- he didn’t kill his mother a second time.
The mud is cold and slippery as he finally collapses onto his hands and knees, and he’s dizzy, so dizzy, except this time, he’s dizzy with relief.
He didn’t kill his mother a second time.
He laughs. He laughs and laughs and laughs and he knows that he probably sounds crazy and the rain hits his face and his hair and sticks his clothes to his skin, and he laughs. His muscles ache and he feels too big for his skin and blood sloshes atop his tongue, but he didn’t kill his mother a second time, so he laughs.
He’s dying, he’s dying, he’s dying, and everything is painful and he doesn’t want to die, but he can’t, won’t bring himself to say that, to break down, so instead, he fucking laughs.
And Pinako lets him.
He tells Al when he gets to central, and he stares at him for a long moment before he whispers.
“Are you sure, brother?” And Ed smiles something grim and haunted and replies back.
And suddenly, Al looks like he’s going to cry, but what comes out instead is a watery sounding grunt, because Al can’t cry, and Ed is going to fix him if it’s the last thing he does (Ed doesn’t say that it probably will be the last thing he does.).
He calls Teacher on the phone, and Izumi picks up on the first ring, voice cheerful and clear, and then Ed knows that today is a good day, a day when the blood sits obediently down in her gut and when the muscles decide not to hurt so much.
“Curtis Butchers,” She says, and Ed decides to prolong it for a moment because Teacher sounds so obviously happy and he doesn’t exactly want to remind her of what surely must’ve been hell for her too.
“Hello Teacher.” He says into the receiver, and Izumi is silent for exactly one moment before she replies.
“Oh, it’s you, you useless student. I see that you’re still alive. And didn’t I tell you that you’re expelled?! Stop calling me teacher!” He laughs, at that, because he may be dying, but she is too, and that gives him a certain feeling of relief, of freedom, because he doesn’t need to hide anything with Izumi.
“I have… some news.” He tells her, finally, and Teacher must hear the grim but relieved note in his voice because she is quickly invested.
“What is it?” She asks him, and when he hesitates, she yells at him to spit it out, dammit.
So he tells her.
“Hey Teacher, that thing you made when you… when you did it, are you sure that it was your baby?” She falls silent and shocked and grim before promptly hanging up on him.
She calls him later.
It wasn’t her baby.
For the first time, and probably the last, she thanks him.
And he understands.
They’re fighting Scar and Winry is there and Winry has a gun in her hands and Scar killed Winry’s parents.
Today is a good day and the only thing he can taste in his mouth is strawberry mint, not blood, and his muscles are relaxed and cooperative. His lungs inhale and exhale like every other person and the dizziness in his head laps against the shore amiably instead of storming and raging and threatening to drag him beneath the water, but today is not a good day, because Scar killed Winry’s parents, and Winry is crying, and she’s holding a gun.
He isn’t sure what the most frightening part of it is, the fact that Scar admits it, that there is something akin to grief in his eyes, or that Winry is there, Winry, his childhood best friend, the girl who hit him with wrenches when he did something stupid, who pushed him forwards when he felt like giving up, who built him an arm and a leg so that he could keep moving and fighting and breathing and living, is holding a gun, something that takes lives and people and parents and children and futures.
Maybe it’s the part of him that knows that he’s going to die that does it, the part of him that knows that he won’t live to see Al marry, have kids, see Winry make the automail breakthrough that will change the world for all history, see Colonel Bastard make Fuhrer… Maybe it’s the part of him that knows that he will never have a story beyond what he’s managed to do until now, maybe it’s the young, insecure, grief-riddled part of him that is speaking, but he knows that once Winry pulls that trigger, there is no going back. There is not a worse feeling than knowing that you are responsible for the deaths of others, the sorrow and mourning and grief of others- (Al is gone, and mom, mom, mom, mom, no, give him back, he’s all I have left, take anything, my arm, my body, my heart, just please-).
He jumps in front of Winry as her hands tremble upon the trigger and takes her hands because her hands are ones who made him his leg, so that he could keep standing, his arm, so that he could keep dreaming, Winry, whose hands have created lives and built futures and gave people who prayed for death a chance- and tells her that she can’t.
His hands might be stained with the blood of his own family, his fate might be sealed for slaughter inside that heavy silver pocket watch, his soul may have an expiration date that only looms closer and closer, but Winry is not running out of time, Winry is not a fighter, Winry is not a killer.
She was never meant to be a killer.
And there must be something in his eyes, in his voice, in his calloused, dying hands as he grips hers, because she sobs and lets the gun tumble from her fingers and clatter to the ground.
Because he is dying, and just because his own life is running out doesn’t mean he should steal someone else’s.
Lan Fan lost an arm.
She lost an arm, and she’s going to need automail.
And Ed knows that feeling all too well; the familiar, throbbing pain in his shoulder, the fear to turn his head because that would only confirm his fears that there is nothing there. An emptiness where there should be something important. A feeling of loss that will stay with you forever.
Her eyes are filled with determination, and it seems like only Ed can see the panic and desperation within them, the overwhelming fear and indecision, unknowing if this is the right thing, lost within the new circumstances, scared of how to live life without a whole limb.
And yet he admires her, for being able to take it so well.
Because he knows that she will be just fine.
He can see it in her eyes; that pure fury, that anger that will fuel her through the pain and the fear. The determination that will push her along, even if her own two feet fail underneath her.
He’s been eaten.
By a homunculus.
His lungs burn after a whole day of fighting, and his head slowly starts to spin in circles, each thought coming slow and heavy. He feels as if he is wading through a sea of thick, weighted oil. His limbs drag, and gravity seems to have increased overnight (how does gravity work when you’re in the stomach of a homunculus?). He contemplates it, giving up, falling to the ground, dying with the iron tang of blood not only in his mouth but all around him as well.
And yet, the strawberry mints seem to jingle in his pocket, as if Teacher is telling him off for even thinking of the idea, so he forces himself to keep going. He may be dying, but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t going to cling to life as long as he can before death drags him away by the scruff of his neck.
The sea of blood seems unending and Ling looks one step away from falling over (ha, try being sick and dying on top of having fought all day, ya bastard). His stomach growls and his vision blurs, and then they’re sitting on some random piece of debris floating atop the blood and cooking his boot. He’s feeding a boot to the prince of Xing. It would’ve been hilarious if it hadn’t been so pathetic.
And then Envy shows his ugly mug, and Ed has to force his numb feet underneath him and tell them that no, they can not take a fucking rest dammit, now he needs to fight another homunculus. His limbs are weak and unresponsive, and he can barely dodge, because Envy is way fucking bigger than previously thought, and there are faces sticking out of him, and those are all the lives that he took, all the souls that are forced to be trapped and used as energy within a homunculus forever. They’re so many of them and they’re all people, who used to live and breathe and love and hurt, and they’re dying in there, just like him, and he can’t.
He can’t hurt them.
Ling is gone, and Greed is fighting him in Ling’s body, and Ed refuses to believe it, because there’s blood in the back of his throat and spiders beneath his skin and he was supposed to die first.
Ling has to be in there somewhere, has to still be alive and kicking, somewhere among those thousands and thousands of souls, and Ed believes it, because no matter how annoying that guy had been, he’d been his friend, and he’d cared, and they’d fought together, dammit, he was still alive. He had to be, because Ed doesn’t know what he can do otherwise.
Father is fighting Scar somewhere far away, and Ed doesn’t want to think about why Father looks so much like Hohenheim, but it pushes at his mind like a vulture, digging into the softest parts of his flesh until he has to give in, has to wonder, has to come to a conclusion that he doesn't want to believe.
But for now, Greed, no Ling is here right in front of him, and he’s dying but he’d give what little time he has left if it meant that Ling was still in there, if it meant that they could all get out of whatever monstrous plan this country has created with all of them, Ling and Lan Fan and the Colonel and Hawkeye and Fuery and Havoc and Breda and Falman and Granny and Teacher and Winry and Al, with all of them alive.
(All of them but him.)
The Fuhrer is a homunculus.
Of course he would be the only who would have to kill seven unkillable monsters- one of them the fucking leader of his country- and their crazy ringleader and restore Al’s body and somehow spend the last few months of his life with the people that he loves before he’s doomed to fucking die from a disease.
Truth, the bastard, is probably laughing in that hideous white world of his.
The Lieutenant tells him about Ishval.
Fire in his bones and acid in his veins, blood boiling in his tongue, eyes sinking into his skull, he is just as close to death as these stories of these poor Ishvalan people- a race that was wiped out, leaving nothing but broken horror stories and a forgotten history behind them. Leaving behind burning homes and destroyed towns, and the last remnants of a race that had once been the proud men of Ishvala, left to grieve and mourn and long for a world that doesn't hate them, doesn't put them down like they are not human.
He imagines it. The gunshots and the scent of burning flesh and the screams of the innocent as their lives were cut short, like scissors snapping thread. The blood coating the floor like a sea of crimson, the smoke rising from the air, haunted with the wails of children, mothers, babies, grandparents. The bodies, lining the broken, ragged ground that would have once been home like puppet dolls, except they were real people. They had been real people with futures and pasts and families and hopes and dreams. People who shouldn't have died. People who should have been given a chance to live.
Because it's because he knows just how little time he has left, that he treasures it all that much. The fact that there are people out there, who cut that time short for their own, selfish needs-
It sounds like hell.
He can see hell in her eyes.
(He almost tells her about… about everything, but something stops him at the last moment and the words refuse to leave his mouth.)
Al asks him what he wants to do when they get their bodies back.
He says he’ll call Granny and Teacher and tell them the news to celebrate.
He doesn’t tell him that he’ll probably be dead by the time that happens.
He tells the Colonel that he’ll give back the 520 Cenz when he becomes Fuhrer around the blood that pools in the back of his mouth.
He shoos Al away down the road and slams the car door shut, and Mustang recoils in shock.
“Take care of Al for me if I happen to be away, Mustang,” He says, and he knows that Mustang will understand. “You know he’ll get sad if I’m away for too long.” Mustang stares at him from within the darkness of the car, his eyes narrowing. There’s a spark of fear in those eyes, for a moment, and grim understanding. He knows that the Colonel is smart, that he’s probably seen how he’s been losing weight, how he’s been gaunt and tired and older than he was ever meant to be.
“You’re skinny, Fullmetal.” Mustang says instead, his eyes sharp and shrewd and all too knowing, and for once, his eyes brimming with fear and worry and something that comes just a little bit too close to-
“I’m worried about you.” He says finally, and he’s waiting for him to confirm it, but Ed doesn’t want to say it outright, doesn’t want to say the words out loud, he-
Snorts and looks at Mustang with an expression that is too tired and too haunted.
“Why, you been looking at me lately, Mustang? Didn’t know you were a pedophile.” And Mustang blinks at him and promptly starts to sputter and deny it, but his eyes are begging him to tell him that it’s not true.
When silence finally falls again, Mustang says it again, those words.
“I’m serious, Fullmetal. I’m worried about you, I-”
“Well you shouldn’t be,” He snorts again, trying to look nonchalant, but he’s never been the best liar. “Just ‘cause I haven’t been breaking as many buildings on my missions these days doesn’t mean I’m not-”
“Listen to me, Edward.” Mustang says, and he starts, because it feels like the Colonel hasn’t called him that in years. “I will not look after Alphonse while you’re away. Look after him yourself.” His eyes burn and plead with him, and Ed crumbles, because he doesn’t want to admit it himself. He doesn’t want to say that he’s-
He closes his eyes, and takes a deep breath (his lungs ache, ache, ache) and lets out a tiny sigh where instead he wants to breathe out his soul, breathe out all of the fear and the guilt and the words that clog in his throat like sand, because he’s dying and there are monsters roaming the streets, and something is very, very wrong with this country.
“Yeah,” He says, and he smiles something sad and sorrowful up at Mustang’s face, and somehow Mustang’s eyes only succeed in becoming more and more worried. “Yeah, okay.” He tilts his head, but looks Mustang in the eyes as he says:
“See you later, Mustang.”
He’ll be back.
And Mustang’s voice is hoarse and a tad uncertain as he replies:
“Yeah. See you.”
The car drives away.
He watches it go for a moment before he turns away and heads after Al.
Briggs is cold and bleak and the snow that somehow gets everywhere; on the ground, on the trees, on his clothes, only make his bones ache even more and his automail screech in protest. His muscles spasm and it’s getting harder and harder to hide the illness that creeps in like the chill through the closed window.
On one hand, he treasures every moment that he can spend with his brother before he’s doomed to die, but on the other hand, Al has only been sticking closer and closer by his side and it’s hard, stupidly hard to hold down each meal and to smile when he wants to grimace and fall to the ground, grunting in pain.
He tells Al that he’s going to sleep when it finally becomes too much, but instead of to their room, he heads to the phones, choosing the one in the far back corner where no one will overhear him. The line rings four times, and he almost loses within his mental battle of whether or not he should allow himself to sit on the floor of the booth before Granny picks up.
“Hello, Rockbell Automail, at your service.” Her familiar, croaking voice sounds through the earpiece and Ed will deny the rush of relief that runs through him at that moment for the rest of his short life.
“Hey Granny.” He says, leaning against the cool glass of the booth. A chill goes down his spine at the icy touch of the glass as his breath fogs it up, turning his face into blurry lines of gold and black. At one point, when he was far, far, younger, he may have doodled circles or equations, his hand absentmindedly drawing out his ever-changing thoughts. Now, however, his arm feels like lead and his fingers feel like they weigh a thousand pounds. He's tired. He's been tired for far too long.
“I see you’re not dead yet, shorty.” She replies, taunting, but he can hear the relief in her voice. He is relieved that he can finally talk to someone, and she is relieved that he is still alive and kicking. And perhaps sometime before his whole life became dedicated to spewing lie after lie about his own well-being, he may have attempted pleasantries, may have told her all about what he had for dinner, how Al is doing. But now, he knows time is short. It's always been short.
“Did mom get muscle spasms?” He asks outright, and there’s a split second of silence as he stares into the carefully painted ceiling of the phone booth before Granny is bombarding him with a rapid flurry of worried questions.
“Yes, yes she did, how bad are they? Have they reached your chest and back yet? Do they hurt a lot? How long do they go on for?” He sighs, closes his eyes, and ignores the pain that spreads like fire down his thighs and his calves. It pulses and twists, a snake that bites at his skin, once, twice, again and again.
“Thanks Granny.” He says instead of replying to any of her questions, and Granny accepts it, because she knows him.
“...You stay safe, boy.” She grumbles into the receiver and he smiles genuinely at that, his lips twisting upwards. He's never safe. If not from criminals or alchemists or the homunculi, monsters come alive, wandering out there in the dead of the night, because of his own body, that fails on him more and more every day.
“Of course, Granny.” He speaks, and hangs up before she can say anything more.
And there, in the quiet of the phone booth, a dead receiver in one hand and the other twitching in pain, Ed finally allows himself to admit what he hadn’t wanted to admit until the very day he died.
“I don’t want to die.” He whispers into the silence, but nobody replies back.
Nobody ever replies back.
Amestris is one giant transmutation circle. One giant transmutation circle for the creation of a philosopher’s stone.
In just a few months, everyone in this country is going to die, their souls sucked into a stone where they will suffer for all eternity, losing the very definition of themselves in a storm of personalities, of voices, wailing into the dark red abyss in a chorus of misery, until finally, finally, all the energy is used up and their lives dwindle away to nothing.
Their country was created to die.
He only has who knows how long left, and he’s going to spend that time fighting genuine monsters for the lives of every single person living in this goddamn country.
It’s not fair, but since when has anything been fair for him.
Scar and Winry and the others are long gone into the mine, but Al tries to push his way through the snow after them, trying to warn them of the state of Fort Briggs.
The snow is harsh, hitting bullets against his armor, but Al is empty, has been empty and unfeeling since what feels like forever, and he doesn’t feel a thing.
There’s a blizzard raging outside and no sane person would ever step one foot out in this weather.
Nobody is around when Alphonse Elric falls like a stone into the snow. His soul pulls for his body, and he knows that he doesn’t have much time left.
What he doesn’t know is that he isn’t the only one losing time.
Ed hadn’t seen the other stone, and that had been his fatal mistake.
There is a fucking beam in his gut, and he had been dying before, but now death hovers over his shoulder and his blood coats the ground beneath him, wetting his coat red and sticky.
The chimeras pull at it, trying to pull it out, and Ed claps his hands through the pain that roars through his gut and the blood that pours from his skin as his organs rip apart inside of him. He screams and screams and screams and it burns and burns and burns and death hurts more than he could have ever imagined. His stomach feels like it's going through a chess grinder and he can barely breathe, choking on the pain that roars, pulling at his thoughts, overtaking everything in his head, but even through it all, he brings his hands together, and he claps. He claps, like he's done a million times over, he claps, like he did that night, when he made the choice that turned everything he knew to ashes, he claps, and the movement is ingrained in his mind.
Through the crashing lightning that stabs through his veins, his mind roars with only a single thought- he is a philosopher’s stone, his life is a philosopher’s stone, no matter how short it is, and he’s going to use it, no matter how much it shortens what little time he has left, because he can not die here, dammit, he still has promises to keep, a country to save, and a brother that he needs to bring back.
When the light dies down, there’s a deep-rooted pain in his chest and acid in his lungs, there’s blood stuck in his teeth and a pulsating roar that spins in his head.
He’s going to die, and he’s going to die soon, but at least he’s not dead now.
Greed, no Ling. Ling is not dead, and he’s alive and he tells him all about the Promised Day.
Greed is good, this country is going to die in a couple of months, and he is dying. Monsters are out there, plotting this entire damn thing, and Ed, Ed can’t bring himself to care anymore.
Greed jokingly offers to be his boss, and he is a homunculus, but Ed is dying, so Ed accepts.
They are allies.
He’s going to save this country if it’s the last thing he does.
Tomorrow is the Promised Day, and everyone is preparing, the Colonel and Hawkeye and Team Mustang and Greed and Heinkel and Darius and Scar and Mei and Alphonse, but Ed wakes up in the morning and for once, the aches and the pains and the blood is gone, and he feels- he feels fine. He feels fine for the first time in months and he’s thanking everything for this miracle, but he should have known. He should have known, because when he steps into the room, Greed frowns at him before putting a hand to his head and-
Tomorrow is the Promised Day, and everyone is preparing, but Ed- Ed has-
Ed is going to die in less than three days.
Today is Promised Day and he fights and he fights and he fights and ignores the pain that trickles up and into his consciousness, ignores that aches and the screams of his muscles as he pushes himself on what could be the last day of his life to fight in a war that will determine the lives of thousands.
He screams and he punches and he flips and kicks and claps and claps and claps until his hands burn and his head swims from all of the pressure. He ducks and rolls and fights even as he swallows down the iron tang of blood on his throat and spasms in his chest that makes it almost impossible to breathe. He’s battle-worn and tired and weary and his legs shake with such fervor that he feels as if he will collapse to the floor at any moment and death will finally carry him away into bleak nothingness.
They fight Pride and Gluttony, then just Pride, then, just when they sneak into Central, they are attacked by a wave of undead mannequins who don’t stop coming.
And Envy, like his namesake, was doomed to be jealous of everything he laid eyes upon, and he was envious of humans the whole time. How they could stand up again and fight and never stop fighting in the name of what they cared for. How they could live and breathe and love and care and be human.
Ed is human, and Ed is dying, but staring down at Envy as he pulls his own stone from his body, watching this homunculus take his own life, he can’t help but feel a twisted sense of pity, of sorrow for this vile creature, deep in the base of his throat.
They finally reach Father, only to fight again, except they forced Mustang to perform human transmutation, and he’s paid the price with his sight for something that wasn’t even his fault, and Ed feels such fury at that, such rage that shrieks through his veins with the force of a thousand suns that all the pain and the fever and the weariness washes away until all that’s left is pure adrenaline.
And so he fights again. And again and again and again. He fights and he wins and he lives to see just another day because he knows that he almost doesn’t have any time left.
And then Father traps them all and then they’ve failed, they’ve failed and it’s worse than he could’ve ever imagined because all of the people of Amestris are dead, and they’re in a stone, and Father is using the lives of all of their friends and their loved ones and their people to absorb God, and he fucking succeeds. He’s absorbed God and he’s literally immortal, but Ed is dying and has been dying, and finds that he doesn’t really give a shit whether Father is immortal or not, because everyone is dead, and this fucking bastard is not getting away with it as long as Ed is alive.
Everyone attacks and attacks. They shoot and shoot and shoot, they use alchemy and guns and bullets and whatever else they could find, but Father doesn’t even move.
And then his arm is pinned and his automail is broken and Al-
He roars with fury, and his entire body aches and his throat burns and his body is giving up on him, but he’s not ready to go yet, and he attacks Father, because Al sacrificed himself for this, and he is not fucking giving up before he pummels this asshole into ash.
He punches and he punches and he punches, and he can barely hear the cheer of the soldiers over the roaring in his ears, and then just as suddenly as this whole mess started, Greed is gone, Ling is crying, God and a thousand souls quite literally spill out of Father and take him away. Everyone is cheering and roaring with joy, but Ed can only stare at the broken, empty suit of armor that used to be his brother through the overwhelming pain that racks his body.
Al is dead.
For a moment, all he can do is feel the sorrow crash over him like a strange, detached feeling of shock as finally everybody calms down around him and Mei starts to sob over Al’s empty armor. His body aches and burns, his stomach feels like a cavern, and he feels like he's been dredged up from the cold, rocky soil, an undead soldier, pulled from his rest by the scruff of his neck to fight in yet another war. And yet, what hurts the most is that Al is gone. He's fucking gone.
He wants to cry.
He wants to laugh.
He wants to scream.
He wants to do... something.
There's a hand, scooping into his heart, digging out whatever pitiful emotions that he has left, scooping out whatever energy he has reserved in him to keep smiling and standing and breathing and living, because for him, when every day hurts more than the last, living fucking hurts. It fucking hurt even before this illness caught up to him in this race against time, even before death crept up to him and knocked on his door in the dead of the night.
He feels like laughing.
That's strange, this shouldn't be fucking funny.
Because Al's fucking dead.
Everyone and everything he's ever loved is stolen from him.
And for a moment, he hates himself. He's always hated himself. Hated himself when his father left him to fend for his own, hated himself every time his mother's smile fell, hated himself when she fucking died, hated himself when Al cried himself to sleep at night, hated himself what that goddamn fucking transmutation circle cost them everything, hated himself all these years for every single choice he's ever made because sometimes it seems like all he ever does is take. He takes and takes and takes, people, futures, time, lives, even when he doesn't want to. He takes everything that might hold even a semblance of happiness.
He hates himself.
He killed Al.
Al's never going to smile up at him again. He's never going to taste Gracia's apple pie. He's never going to feel the sunlight again. He's never going to turn around and scold him for getting into another fight, never gonna laugh with that bright, beautiful voice of his, never going to be here, ever again, because he's dead, and Ed killed him.
Ed killed him.
The tears well up, hot and red and burning, and all he wants to do is collapse into a mess on the floor as his abused muscles and bones wail with the pressure of death, pressing down upon his shoulders because this is too much- everything is too much-
He wants to die.
It's all he can do, not to scream and rage and roar at the sky, at the heavens, because this is not fair, this is so, very not fair, his entire life has been not fair, and what right does life have, does fucking God have, to take from him everything he ever loved.
He wants to laugh. He wants to laugh because all this time, he just wanted to save people, but in the end, he couldn't save the one person that he cared most about.
That shouldn't be funny, but it is.
Perhaps this is hysteria.
Perhaps this is grief.
Because Alphonse is dead.
Alphonse Elric is dead.
Dead like mom, dead like Hughes, dead like he will be, in just a scant few hours.
Gone, just like that.
Al is dead.
And then, like someone has turned the faucet, there’s pure rage, crashing through his veins and sparking a fire that roars to life within his chest. There's anger, smoldering like coals in the chest, bursting him full of furious energy, like a bomb about to explode.
He’s going to die tomorrow, he’s just fought in a war that killed everybody in Amestris for minutes on end, and he’s just punched God in the stomach.
Like hell is he just going to roll over and accept that his little brother is dead.
He draws a circle. He picks up a pipe and he scrapes it on the cracked, broken floor of what used to be Central Command. The signs and symbols that he's studied all his life, the art that he's studied and mastered and become something of a legend in, the creation, circle that haunts his nightmares and turned his life into a living hell; he draws it. This is the circle that ruined his life, this is the circle that stole is childhood, this is the circle that started everything. He never wants to look at it again, never wants to even think of it again, and yet, he draws it.
As he must.
As he was fated to do. From the beginning.
He might be dying, but he’s going to save his baby brother if it’s the last fucking thing he does.
He sacrifices his Gate. He’s not going to be using it much after this anyways. He’s going to be dead, soon.
Truth grins, their voice loud and booming, and for the first time in all of history, the Fullmetal Alchemist is the first to have ever successfully attempted human transmutation.
He takes Al by the hand. The pain blossoms like flowers, flutters down his arms and his legs and whirls across his head like petals. There's blood, pounding behind his eyes, in his head, in his veins, in his heart, soaking the fabric of his clothes, soaking the inside of his mouth crimson. There's blood everywhere. Eventually, he won't have any blood at all. What a frightening thought.
He looks around at this damned white world, at the 'God' that he's cursed, that he's hated since forever, and wonders if this is where he'll end up after death. Bound to the door, bound to alchemy, bound to the Truth. Forever forced to exist in the maddening void of nothing and yet everything.
And yet, he's not an alchemist anymore.
There is nothing left that ties him to this gate.
It both frightens him and relieves him.
He wants to fall to his knees. He wants to finally, finally give in, wants to let death steal him away, wants to let nothingness eat away at his mind until he is left as an empty husk; no pain, no emotions, no thoughts. A corpse. He wants to finally lay down and rest.
He inhales a long, long breath, and lets everything- all of the thoughts, the taints, the thought of death, constantly hovering in his mind, drift away with his exhale. It's then, and only then, that he finally allows himself to look back, for just a moment, before turning away, smiling, and lead his brother out the back door, back into the world of the living.
Ed wakes up at midnight after the Promised Day feeling oddly calm. His body doesn’t ache or hurt, but for some odd reason, he knows that he’s not going to live to see the light of morning.
He visits Al first and watches his little brother, breathing and warm and wretchedly skinny but alive, so, undeniably, alive, and caresses his bony hand in his sleep. The tears slip like crystals from his eyes, dripping silently down his cheeks like stars within the suffocatingly silent world of midnight before it drops gently upon the pale skin of his sleeping little brother. In the pool of moonlight, Al's skin, pale and unearthly, glows almost angelically. Ed feels relief, so much relief, because his little brother is so, so, alive. He is breathing and sleeping, and he mutters in his sleep about apple pie. But it hurts. It hurts so, so, bad, because he'll never see his brother recover, he'll never see his brother grow up, never be able to hug him and caress him and be the big brother he should have been.
But Al's hand is warm underneath his fingers, and he can't help but feel as if this, all these years, fighting and falling, but getting up again and again and again, even through the weight in his lungs and the hurt in his bones... He can't help but feel as if his whole life- his short childhood, his biggest mistake, his battles, his death, all of it- bubbles down to this one night, these few hours of not quite evening, not quite dawn, where he's allowed to be proud and happy. Where he's allowed, for once, to let the guilt fade away to a dull buzz in the back of his head, because he's done it; his brother is safe and sleeping and alive.
Ed sits there, just sits there and revels in his brother, alive, alive, alive. He sits there and lets himself smile and cry and love.
Because that's all that Edward Elric has ever done.
He wonders if his brother can hear him as he murmurs a quiet goodbye into the warm skin of his brother’s forehead, just like he used to do when his brother was scared in the middle of the night, all those years ago when they were little.
"I love you."
He’s walking back to his room, but he pauses.
The light is on, in the room.
The opens the door and walks inside. Mustang is sitting on his bed, his gray, unseeing eyes whipping up to stare cautiously at the sound of the opening door.
“...Who is it?” He says, and Ed, Ed can’t help the laugh that spills out of his mouth at the paranoid tone of the Colonel’s voice despite his reason for coming here. The man blinks at his voice, eyes widening in surprise.
“Fullmetal?” And that somehow only makes Ed laugh even harder as he shuts the door behind him.
“Hey Colonel.” He greets when his laughter finally dies down, walking over to sit by the Colonel’s bedside.
“What’re you doing here?” Mustang asks, but his tone is only curious, not accusatory. Ed hums.
“I was visiting Al and your room was on the way back to mine.” He answers honestly, his voice soft and cheerful.
“...I see.” Mustang replies, and he’s trying to hide his smile, but he forgets Ed knows him too well. There’s a comfortable stretch of silence as Ed shifts around in the hard hospital chair, trying to find a good way to say what he’s been keeping inside for a good part of these past few years. He’s been working under Mustang for almost five years now, and he knows that he trusts this man with more than his entire life, not that that means much, seeing as how death is wrapped around his chest and breathing over his shoulders.
“Do you remember when I asked you to take care of Al if something were to happen to me?” He asks him, and Mustang stiffens, his blank eyes turning to him with something akin to fear swimming in their depths.
“Fullmetal, I already said-” He starts, his voice hard and scared and worried, but Ed is tired and he’s going to die in a couple of hours, and he needs Mustang to say this out loud for him. He knows that Roy would take care of Al no matter what, but he still needs to hear the confirmation from the man’s own lips.
Roy Mustang is not a man who breaks promises.
“Please, Roy.” He says, because there’s death, pulling at his lungs and his legs and his eyes, and Roy jolts in shock, his lips parting and his eyes going so wide that had Ed not seen it for himself, he wouldn’t have thought such an expression was possible on Roy’s face.
“I-” Roy says, and he looks pained and sad and so, so, desperate, and Ed doesn’t want to do this to him, doesn’t want to confirm to him that- “You- No-” He stammers, and his eyes, blind as they are, plead him to deny it, plead him to tell him that this is a joke, but it’s not, and Ed is going to be dead by morning, and he needs Roy to do this.
“Please.” He says, and his voice is dead serious and Roy’s face just- crumples. He looks away and lowers his head so that if he still had his sight, he would have been staring down at his sheets. Midnight colors his hair silver as it slips down and hides his face- his grief- from view.
“...Okay.” He croaks finally. “Okay.” Ed smiles sadly, and despite himself he trusts this man to keep his word, because when he dies, Al is not going to take it well. Al is going to need all the help he can get. He has enough money from being a State Alchemist to ensure that Al wouldn’t even have to work a day in his entire life if he didn’t want to, but there’s nothing he can do for Al’s mental state after he- after he-
It’s time he accepts that he’s going to die, no matter how much he doesn’t want to go.
“Thanks.” He says, and he means it. “For everything.” He says, and it sounds so much like a farewell, even to his own ears, that he winces. Roy stiffens even more under his bedsheets and Ed smiles a little sadly before he stands up, gently pulling his chair back into place and turning back to walk away because he’s said all he came here to say when-
“Edward.” Roy says, and Ed freezes in his place, but doesn’t turn back around. “If I were to have a son, I think I’d like him to be a little bit like you. I think, that if I were to have a son, I’d name him that. Edward.” And Ed, oh, Ed feels the tears well up from somewhere deep inside of him and for once there’s something in his throat that clogs his windpipe and it’s not blood- it’s- sorrow, regret because god fucking dammit this isn’t fair. He doesn’t want to die.
“I’m sorry, Ed, but I think, god, I don’t know.” Roy starts again, and there’s so much emotion in his voice and Ed stops trying to hold the tears back because he doesn’t want to die. “I- You were like- You were like my son all these years and- and I know we weren’t the closest of people but… but…” And the tears are hot, so hot, as they slip down his cheeks and he knows that Mustang can hear the way that they splash onto the ground, knows that it is weak and cowardly, but he can’t help it because he’s dying and he doesn’t want-
He doesn’t want to die.
“I’ll miss you, Edward.” He says, and there’s hard, raw, truth in his voice, and Ed swallows down the sobs that paw at the back of his tongue.
He gives himself exactly ten seconds to stop fucking mourning himself before:
“Yeah.” He says, trying not to sound too fucking broken, but, but. “I’ll miss you too, Colonel.” And it’s the truth. He’ll be dead, but he’ll still miss him. He’ll miss this; arguing and bantering and laughing and crying and fighting and screaming and living.
Death weighs heavy on his shoulders.
“Goodbye, Roy.” He says, and his voice is raw and breaking, and this is the last time Roy Mustang will ever see him alive, the last time he will see the Colonel before death steals him away.
“...Goodbye, Edward.” He replies finally, his voice solemn and sad.
Edward closes the door behind him and allows himself thirty seconds of self-pity, thirty seconds of emptiness, howling loneliness, hidden deep within his chest before he wipes his tears away, swallows the fear and the pain and the it's not fair back down into the pits of his stomach and heads back down the hall.
He calls Granny first.
“I’m feeling better today, Granny.” He says, and Granny scolds him for calling so late at night, but there is relief in her voice and he doesn’t have the heart to tell her that while he’s alive right now, he won’t be by the time tomorrow comes.
She tells him to come by soon for some stew.
He promises her to come home as quick as he can.
He’s getting better at lying, as of late.
He calls Teacher next.
Before she can say anything, he tells her:
“Thanks for everything, Teacher.” And hangs up before she can say anything else.
She’s probably cursing him on the other end of the line.
She knows what this means.
Somehow he feels lighter, as he walks away from the phone and back to his own room.
The empty room welcomes him, the moonlight pouring in from behind the curtains and coloring the whole world black and gray and silver. Central city is alive beyond the window, the lights from each house bright and shining like stars.
He doesn’t want to die.
But he is and he’ll be dead by tomorrow morning, but he thinks maybe, just maybe, all of this was worth it. He’s saved Amestris, saved his brother, and re-righted his sins. Maybe, just maybe, that’s enough.
Maybe, just maybe, he can die in peace.
The clock strikes three AM and Edward Elric, the Fullmetal Alchemist, Hero of the People, slips into his hospital bed and
A nurse comes in with his breakfast in the morning. When he doesn’t reply to anything, she checks his pulse to find nothing.
He wrote them letters. Perhaps it would have been less insulting if he hadn’t.
I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. It’s not your fault, I didn’t want to worry you. Please don’t blame yourself, I knew I was dying for a long while now. I wish I could’ve been there to see your marriage and give your husband The Talk. I wish I could’ve been there to be the uncle for your baby. I wish I could’ve been there to claim to know you when you become famous for some great automail breakthrough that will change the future. You know how I am, but really, this time, I’m sorry.
I love you Winry. Don’t forget that.
I know you probably hate me right now for leaving just like mom did. For lying to you all this time. For having been sick and dying and not told you. And there’s nothing I can say. I didn’t want to worry you. I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want to leave you. I love you, but you already know that, don’t you? I already told Winry this, but don’t beat yourself up. It’s. Not. Your. Fault. If Winry starts speaking that way, I’m expecting you to scold her. And if you start speaking that way, I’m dragging myself back from the grave just to beat your ass straight. There’s nothing I can tell you that you don’t already know.
Don’t do anything stupid.
You’re strong enough to get through this.
I couldn’t keep my promise, sorry. I usually make it a big deal to keep my promises, but lately I’ve really been failing at that, huh? I guess I’ll owe you 520 Cenz, even in death. You’d better still become Fuhrer though, you bastard. I know I couldn’t keep my promise, but I’m counting on you to keep yours. Look after them, will you? I know you can do it.
You were kinda like a parent for me too. Thanks for watching my back all these years, I guess.
They bury him next to his mother.
Hohenheim spends his last moments fading to ashes in front of both of their graves and grieves his wife who broke her promise, and his son, who he never got to truly apologize to.
Hohenheim didn’t have a corpse.
Alphonse decides to create a gravestone and put him next to Trisha anyways.
Sometimes, Al thinks he can hear his brother scolding him, when his thoughts go a little too dark, even from beyond the grave.
When Roy makes Fuhrer, he leaves 520 Cenz by Edward Elric’s grave. Only Alphonse understands, and even he doesn’t understand fully. It was a promise shared between only him and Edward alone.
As promised, Roy names his first son Edward. He’s a brilliant and smart child with a blinding grin and Riza’s hair. Roy thinks Ed would have been proud. (He would.)
Al has a daughter whose middle name is Ed. She complains that it’s a boyish sounding middle name, but sobers when Al tells her stories of a great uncle who died before she could meet him, a brother who loved and cared and sacrificed so much for the lives and happiness of others. When she grows up and learns more about the Fullmetal Alchemist, when she is old enough to understand the various stories that her father tells her, his eyes shiny and wrinkled with nostalgia, when she looks at the photos lining the halls of a young man with brilliant golden hair and shimmering, determined golden eyes, she thinks she might understand.
She wears her middle name with pride.
She studies alchemy, just like her father, just like her uncle who she’s never met, but she knows would have loved her and cherished her and cared for her down to every last pimple on her face, and hopes that she can do both of them proud.
When Winry Rockbell creates the first flying prosthetic based on the principles of air alchemy, her name is spread all across the land, plastered all over the papers. She waves off the fame with a laugh an expression of strange nostalgia, only quoting that she owes her prototype to ‘my best friend who was an alchemy maniac’.
Winry’s son is a talented young boy who is interested in mixing alchemy and mechanics. He’s got sun-blonde hair that almost looks gold in the sunlight and light blue eyes, just like his mother. His middle name is Elric. And sometimes, when he passes the cemetery in Resembool, he sees his name on the ends of three names, lying side by side.
VAN HOHENHEIM ELRIC
And EDWARD ELRIC.
He’s always drawn to the last name. There’s something about it that makes him feel as if it is important. He’s too young to understand the stories his mother tells him, but he knows that this was the uncle that he would have had, the one with golden eyes and golden hair and a heart bigger than anything.
The sun is setting in Resembool, and the sunset washes everything in a palette of red and orange and gold. Shadows stretch across the rolling green hills dyed crimson like the ghosts of a past long-since vanished. The breeze circles around them lazily (him, him and the ghosts of the past, ghosts of the future) lazily, and when he stretches out his hand to touch it, the headstone is warm beneath his fingertips. He traces the bold block letters carved upon it.
1899 ~ 1915
There were always flowers sprouting around his grave. His Uncle Al always liked Cretan plant alchemy and had planted those flowers himself.
Edelweiss; courage, devotion.
Gladioli; strength of character, faithfulness.
Daisies; loyal love.
Sunflowers; dedication, dedicated love.
Hydrangea; heartfelt emotion, gratitude.
It makes him wonder just what kind of person his uncle had been.
Smaller words are carved underneath the stem of a long Gladiolus, a deep honey color in the sunset, like a flash of the deepest gold hair, swishing behind broad shoulders and flashing golden eyes. He gently wipes the stem to the side to read them, for the hundredth time.
“Here lies the Fullmetal Alchemist, a man with the mind of a genius, the heart of a human, and a soul stronger than anything else.”