Ed has never been too old to lie to himself. AU movie.
1. In the end, Edward Elric will let go of the rocket project.
It is a long time coming, but in the end...
He has been on this side of the Gate for eighteen years with no real progress. He has been living with Alfons Heiderich - who looks far too much like Al to not be Al - in Munich since 1923, and Alfons is starting to get crows feet in the corners of his eyes. (Edward doesn't know how old Alfons is, but he knows that the rocket scientist won't be getting much older.) Their research is full of false conclusions and failed experiments, and Alfons's health is deteriorating badly. He tries to hide the hacking coughs and bloodstained handkerchiefs, but Edward has always been observant. He is worried - the German scientist will die soon - but he is good at ignoring the obvious, now. He can fix everything, he is sure, as long as he gets back to Amestris.
When you reach a certain age, such words stop being naive vows and are firmly categorized as desperate lies. You're never too old to lie to yourself.
The end begins when Hoenheim sends him a letter from London, and all the letter says is "Come, please." Edward hates his father, but he has a feeling...
So he goes.
He doesn't make it back to Germany.
World War II breaks out, and suddenly the sky rains bombs and blood and debris. There is nothing Edward can do except work on his notes, but he eventually reaches a point where he needs Alfons's input and can go no further.
Hoenheim gives him nothing, no advice or apology, but he is hit by shrapnel in an air raid and finally dies with a smile on his face a year before the war ends.
Edward doesn't cry. He simply stares at his wooden arm, and when the pretty widow who shares her bomb shelter with them starts sobbing (having fallen in love with the older man in the past five years - though Edward can't understand why), he doesn't know what to say. He settles on muttering, "Uh, well, he had a long life. Long enough for the bastard to deserve it."
The lady stares at him with red, exhausted eyes. He returns to staring at his hidden wooden arm and wondering if equivalent trade will ever let him fulfill all his promises.
2. He starts the long, hard road back to Germany and Alfons and a way back to Amestris as soon as the Allies triumph. He thinks he is thirty-four now, but he doesn't know and doesn't look it - in fact, he looks exactly the same as he did on the day the Gate spat him into this hellhole. As much as it grates him, life has taught him to let go of pride. So when the soldiers stop him, he plays the kid who has lost his family. They usually let him go. The times they don't... Well, Edward has been tortured before, and they eventually become convinced that he truly isn't a deserter or a spy.
He hates the journey. He hates it with a fiery passion that was once reserved for the people who called him short (which he still insists he isn't, but the protests are dull and automatic now, three seconds too late - and no one realizes it because no one knows him and he is alone).
Edward hates it because now he can see the bombed towns and broken corpses up close - he isn't trapped in the darkness of a bomb shelter anymore, and it is soclose and soreal. The smell of rotting bodies is rank and forever everywhere, so much so that he doesn't even notice the stench a week into it. He loses weight because food is so hard to come by and he can rarely keep it down, anyways.
His travels in Amestris never even came close to this. It is what he imagines the Ishbalan War must have been like, and he feels a pang of empathy for Mustang. He feels a harsher pang of...something when he realizes he can't remember the Bastard Colonel's face, only his dark eyes.
The worst part of the journey is that this is all partially his fault. Every transmutation in Amestris is fuelled by death on this side of the Gate (and this is why he is having such trouble getting back: he needs an energy source). When it hits Edward that he has been a murderer since the age of eight, all he does is sigh.
--"Don't you know that sighing makes you shorter, Fullmetal? You really can't pull off getting even smaller. At this rate, you'll be the size of an amoeba. We may end up stepping on you, and then where will the people be without their hero?"--
He sighs sighs sighs and lets his too long bangs hide his bespectacled golden eyes. He is tired tired tired; he tightens his coat around himself and pillows his head on his bicep, trying to be as comfortable as possible when sleeping in bushes. He falls asleep and stubbornly doesn't think of it again.
Edward is good at stubborn, and he eventually learns to block out the wasteland he is walking and hitchhiking through.
Regret has never been an option for Edward Elric. He only allows a moment to wish it wasn't so.
3. It takes him almost a year to make it back to Munich.
He bangs on the peeling door of the house he and Alfons shared, but no one answers. His loud swearing eventually brings a starved-looking neighbor to open her window.
"Alfons isn't home," she says quietly when she catches his attention. "The Nazis tried to recruit him to make rockets for them. He refused. He went to the camps and hasn't been back since."
The sound of the window clicking shut doesn't bring him out of his frozen state.
He stands there for hours before breaking a window and letting himself in.
In the end, Edward Elric will let go of the rocket project. The end is near, but Edward has always been stubborn.
4. Edward doesn't give up on Amestris. He searches and searches for a way back, but science fails him - his one belief fails him.
Alfons's rocketry notes are still scattered all over the library, and every single one of them leads to a dead end. Edward works on it for another year before reluctantly admitting that he will, perhaps, have to explore other options.
He leaves their - his - house and walks the streets of Munich. As he walks, he really looks at the city for the first time since his return.
It reminds him of Liore.
He leaves for London a week later.
5. When he reaches London, he finds he cannot stay. He is constantly on edge, hearing the phantom whistling of bombs at every turn. On his second day there, a child screams after tripping and scraping her knee, and he dives to the ground like a professional baseball player. He doesn't know where to go, but he finally decides to sail to America, the newest world superpower. There may be someone he can work with there.
Edward boards an ocean liner headed for United States and spends the first two days of the trip standing on deck and staring at the water because a very horrible thought has hit him: he doesn't remember the color of Winry's eyes. He doesn't remember whether Al's hair is blond or brown.
He has been on this side of the Gate for twenty-some odd years, and this is one of the worst things that he realizes: He has spent more of his life on Earth than he has in Amestris.
He wants to cry and finds he can't. When he goes to his cabin that night, he cuts his ponytail off.
It's not letting go. It's not.
It's an apology for not keeping his promises.
6. Edward spends his first few weeks in New York City exploring the new culture. Rather, exploring is what he calls wandering around listlessly and staring at happy friends and families. Once or twice he stumbles into run-down neighborhoods with grisly murder and exotic foods and twenty people in each tiny, falling-apart apartment. Some of the men he sees there remind him of Scar - desperate to do something to save their people. The women are worse, though, because they remind him of Roze - strong and tired and torn to pieces by life. The kids...the kids remind him of the Tringham brothers.
He wanders right back out of those neighborhoods within five minutes, and it's not because he's scared, because he isn't.
He isn't worried about being mugged or shot for two reasons, the first being that he isn't sure he can die. He has already died in Amestris and his counterpart on this side of the Gate is long-rotted - and he hasn't aged a bit in...twenty-six years, is it? Anyway, if he doesn't kick the bucket, then all he has to be concerned with is the pain of being shot/strangled/beaten to death, and pain doesn't bother him - it never has.
The second reason is that he is quite certain he can kick anyone's ass who tries something. He hasn't fought in a while, but he still has the build and muscles of the martial artist he is.
And...Edward guiltily welcomes the thought of someone trying to kill him. He tries not to dwell on it, but everyone who loves him has already given him up for dead, anyway.
7. He eventually rents an apartment in Brooklyn - it's not in any way respectable, but he doesn't really care and has long since dropped the weight of his pride. His ticket to the United States made a large hole in the money Hoenheim and Alfons left him, and all he needs space for is sleep and books and research.
Only he doesn't know where to start.
He hasn't found anything or anyone to start researching. He doesn't know what to do. For the first time in his life, Edward doesn't even an idea of how to reach his goal.
The former alchemist is staring at his old notes one day (he doesn't know when - the nights/days/weeks bleed together). He has a fresh, blank pad of paper in front of him and no theorems to scribble down. He thinks of the people he is trying to get back to - the people he has gone through all this shit for - and tries very hard to remember their faces. He starts sketching them, and he doesn't need to worry about the color of Winry's eyes or Al's hair because it's just a pencil. He draw and draws and draws - Roze's face on crowds of beaten-down women; Al's grin as he played with Auntie Pinako and Winry's dog, Den; the way Winry would look when totally concentrating on automail; Auntie Pinako smoking a pipe; Maes cooing over his daughter (whose name he cannot remember anymore). Edward still can't manage to recall Mustang's face, but he does recall the smirk and never lost the eyes. He draws the bastard sitting behind his desk with his fingers steepled under his piercing, dark gaze, not quite managing to hide that infuriating smirk of his. He even sketches Alfons as he once came upon him in the kitchen of their old house in Munich - half-turned, coughing discreetly and violently into a handkerchief.
He doesn't think anything of the sketches until the French woman who brings him food and mothers him exclaims over his talent and begs him to sell her the drawing of the crowd of Rozes.
So that is what he starts doing for a living. He has forty-something years of experience with raw rock bottom and evil, with depredation and strength and ordinary/extraordinary people. He has the talent to portray it - his eye for detail and experience with complex alchemical circles serves him well. He lets go of the title of "The People's Alchemist" and dons the mantle of "The People's Artist."
He is fairly successful, and when he leaves out the color of Winry's eyes and Al's hair when he paints, his wealthy, pretentious customers exclaim over the genius of it, and where did such a young, talented fellow such as he come from?
He lets go of Amestris. (No, he doesn't, and it will be so painful when he realizes this.)
8. Edward is wandering the city again when he comes across a crowd standing outside a brightly lit cinema, chattering happily. He has nothing better to do, so he allows himself to be swept along with the line. He finds himself watching the opening credits of The Wizard of Oz - the ten-year anniversary.
When the film is over, he stumbles home in a daze, absolutely silent with his head down. He somehow manages not to trip, and when he bumps into people, they take one glance at his eyes and walk on uneasily. The French lady calls out to him as he passes her on the stairs, but he doesn't stop until he is alone in his apartment. He looks at the peeling walls.
They are covered with completed paintings too close to his heart for him to sell and half-finished pieces that don't look like anything yet.
They are all of Amestris.
He closes his eyes and taps his heels as he whispers in agony, "There's no place like home."
He repeats the magic words over and over until he is screaming them - all hard-won composure gone - and when he opens his eyes again, he sees Amestris covering his walls.
He goes to bed desperately not-crying. He has painted his heart. He is surrounded by his heart and still can't reach it - can't get back to Kansas, to Al and Winry and Mustang and Pinako and Hawkeye and Gracia and...
In the end, it takes twenty-eight years, three months, nine days, two hours, twenty-one minutes, and eighteen seconds for him to let go.
At least as much as he ever will.
A/N: My first FMA fic! This is set in the supposition that they never met the gypsy girl and the movie never really happened. Ed is stuck! I had fun with it; do you lot think I did the fandom justice? I may need to stick to what I know, huh?