Al dies and Ed handles it badly.
From what Colonel Mustang had heard, Ed had woken up one morning and Al’s soul was gone. Just... gone. The armor was completely lifeless. Apparently, there had been a hairline crack on Alphonse’s metal back that both he and Ed had overlooked. It must have started as the smallest of fractures--hardly worth mentioning--but stress on the armor had made the crack grow until it ran right through the seal that kept Al’s soul bound to the armor. That tiny crack was all it took for the circle to be broken. Nearly five years after he’d lost his body, Alphonse Elric’s soul had finally departed.
Al was dead.
Ed had not cried at all. After discovering his brother’s empty shell and the mortal crack in the transmutation circle, Ed had simply gone downstairs, made a pot of coffee and calmly waited for Winry and Pinako to get up.
Mustang had overheard Winry tearfully telling Hawkeye that Ed had informed them of Al’s death in a cold, detached way as if he were giving a weather report or talking about someone else’s tragedy. Even now, as he watched dirt being piled on his brother’s coffin with Winry desperately clinging to him in open mourning, Ed was still quietly stone-faced.
Winry raised her head and said something to Edward that Mustang was too far away to hear. Ed must have said something in return, for she nodded slowly and embraced him before both she and Pinako moved away from him, heading despondently back to their home.
Ed did not follow them. He kept his silent vigil, still as a statue until even the gravediggers had finished their task. They nodded their professional condolences to the young man and then they, too, departed, leaving Ed and the colonel alone in the graveyard.
Mustang stepped forward until his was standing next to Edward. Ed looked up as he approached, jumping slightly as if startled.
“I didn’t know anyone else was still here.” The young blond said, his eyes returning to Al’s grave.
“You said that you wanted to speak with me after the service.” Mustang reminded him a little warily.
Ed was silent for a moment, watching as the brisk autumnal breeze stirred the bouquets of flowers beside the headstone. The soft wind blew Ed’s hair into his face and the young man brushed it back behind his ear as he spoke.
“I have a question...” he began, “and I didn’t know who else to ask.”
“It’s just that... I don’t know if this is morality or alchemy... I don’t know what to do with his body.”
“His body?” Mustang asked, looking down at the grave, “I don’t understand.”
“The armor, I mean... it’s really not his body, I guess, so I wasn’t sure if I should bury it as if it were. The casket is just full of our old toys and some pictures. His armor is still up in our bedroom... under a sheet.”
Mustang’s stomach turned uneasily at the thought of Ed sleeping next to the lifeless vessel that his brother had inhabited for so many years. True, it wasn’t exactly Al’s corpse but still... it certainly couldn’t be good for Ed’s state of mind to be sharing a room with it. “What exactly are you asking me, Edward?”
“What do I do with the armor? Should I have buried it? Should I destroy it? Should I just put it in the basement and forget about it? ...Should I transmute it into something else, maybe turn part of it into something that I can carry with me wherever I go...?”
Ed stopped for a moment and took a deep breath. His voice had been even and emotionless up until that last sentence, and he was clearly trying to regain the cold control over himself that he’d been displaying to everyone since Alphonse’s death.
“Morally, I should probably bury it...” Ed began again when he’d composed himself, “But it wasn’t really his body and I don’t want to pretend that it was... it was just a prison. But... but wouldn’t it be morbid of me to just keep it around...? I had to cover it in a sheet because I started talking to it, forgetting that it’s empty now. It looks exactly as it did when he was still in it... just sitting in the corner...”
He finally tore his eyes away from the grave and looked up at Mustang, his eyes so wide and haunted that it knocked the breath from the colonel’s lungs. “I just... thought that maybe, as an alchemist, you might have some insight on what I’m supposed to do with it.”
Mustang looked down at him in sick silence, unsure of what to say. Ed’s eyes were desperate and devastated, looking to Mustang as if he had all the answers, as if he could make everything right again... but he couldn’t. As badly as he wanted to, Mustang knew that he couldn’t fix this. He couldn’t fix Ed.
Mustang clenched his jaw and looked away.
“I don’t know, Edward.” he said finally, “But I think that you should be discussing this with the Rockbells rather than me.”
Ed shook his head, his shoulders slumping. “They... they don’t know that I still have the armor. They think it’s in the casket. I took it out last night after the wake and put it in my room.”
“...If you think that it’s the moral thing to do, why didn’t just you just let them bury it, then?” Mustang asked uneasily, once again struck by how clearly unbalanced Ed was right now. It was clear to see that Ed was not dealing with his brother’s death very well... He should be in mourning now, not emotionlessly robbing Alphonse’s grave and stashing the “body” under a sheet in his bedroom.
“I dunno...” Ed answered after a moment, “Maybe I was thinking that... that maybe if I still had the armor, I could...”
Mustang’s insides went cold. Without Ed even finishing his sentence, Mustang knew exactly what the kid was trying to say.
“Ed, you can’t bring him back. He’s gone.”
“I know. I know that, it’s just... if I just try then maybe I can...”
Mustang rounded on him, grabbing him roughly by the shoulders and forcing Ed to face him. “No.” Mustang said sternly, trying to sound angry when in fact his insides where shaking with fear and pity, “Listen to me: there is nothing that you can do for him now.”
Mustang dug his fingers into the boy’s shoulders and shook him violently, desperate to make Ed understand though the depths of his numb anguish. “No! He’s gone, Ed. Alphonse is dead. It’s over. There’s no way to bring him back now, it’s too late.”
Until this point, Ed’s gaze had firmly been riveted to his brother’s grave, but now he looked up, his eyes huge and disquieting.
“He’s gone, Ed...” Mustang said again, gently this time.
Ed stared up at him for a long moment, looking as if he didn’t quite understand what Mustang was saying to him. But then, slowly, Mustang watched as the last shred of hope died within him. Ed’s eyes became dark and hollow as he realized that there really was nothing that he could do to bring his brother back to him. The truth slid over Ed with a devastating sort of finality, filling Mustang with such anguish that it took all of his willpower to keep from hugging the boy fiercely to his chest.
“I know.” Ed said finally after several unsettling beats, backing away from Mustang’s tight grip on his shoulders and turning back to the grave. God, he looked so lost. “...I know he’s gone.”
Quietly, Ed sank to his knees in front of the tombstone, settling himself down onto the damp, freshly-turned earth. Mustang stood behind him, his heart clenched tightly in his chest as he wondered whether or not he should leave Edward alone to mourn now that he had so brutally struck the kid with the reality of his brother’s death. Ed bowed his head, his golden hair sliding forward to shield his face from the setting sun and casting his dry eyes in deep shadow.
Mustang sighed, and turned to leave him to his grief.
“Do you think it hurt? When he died?” Ed asked abruptly, his voice so completely without life that Mustang stopped dead in his tracks and turned back to him.
“...No.” Mustang said hesitantly, not really knowing, “He probably didn’t even know it was happening until it was over. He probably just... faded away.”
Ed nodded slowly and reached out his hand, tracing the letters of his brother’s name on the tombstone with slightly trembling fingers. Ed made a soft choking sound and his shoulders started shaking with the sudden onslaught of grief. He dug his fingernails into the rough stone surface of the grave marker and leaned forward, pressing his face against the cold granite as a harsh, broken sob escaped from between his clenched teeth.
Mustang worked his jaw, fighting against the warm blur in his eyes as he watched the boy gasp and tremble against the grave of the only family he had. Ed broke down and wept openly, leaning against the emotionless headstone and running his hand across it lovingly as if it were Al himself. But then with a suddenly frantic cry, Ed straightened himself up and clapped his hands together, the sharp sound echoing desolately across the empty cemetery. Ed pressed his hands once more against the tombstone, creating a bright flash of alchemic power as he transmuted the granite.
Mustang figured out what Ed was going to do seconds before he did it and the colonel’s heart jumped into his throat.
Mustang threw himself forward as a thick spike of granite thrust itself outward from the surface of the headstone, shooting forward like a lobbed spear heading straight for Edward’s chest. Mustang knocked the boy to the ground in a blind panic, crying out sharply as the transmuted stone sliced open his shoulder in passing. Ed sprawled on his back on the damp grass looking dazed as Mustang pulled himself up off of him.
The colonel’s dark, frantic eyes looked him over quickly to be sure that the kid hadn’t succeeded in hurting himself. That done, Mustang pulled back his fist and punched Ed in the face so hard that it made his knuckles sting.
“You idiot!” Mustang bellowed down at him, grabbing him by the front of his shirt and half lifting him from the ground so that their faces were inches apart. “That is never the answer! Not EVER, do you understand me?!”
Ed stared up at him in shock, his tear-bright eyes wide. Dazedly, he raised his shaking hand up to his mouth, feeling the thin trickle of blood that was oozing from his newly-busted lip. But then his face crumpled and he withered a little in Mustang’s grasp, a thick haze of tears welling up from his lower eyelids. A quiet keening sound issued from the boy’s throat and he pressed forward to wrap his arms around Mustang’s neck, sobbing uncontrollably into the colonel’s injured shoulder.
“I’m sorry... I’m s-sorry...” he gasped, “Oh, Al, I’m s-so sorry...”
Mustang froze uncertainly for a moment but then he wilted, closing his eyes. He pulled the boy close and held him, whispering soft words and stroking his back until long after the sun slipped behind the horizon and plunged them both into darkness.