Al finally snaps.
"...And now for something completely different. A group of terrorists was apprehended at the early hours of morning by the Amestrian military forces. The group was located at the East side of Central City and it is highly suspected that their main objective was to create discord between Amestrian government and the Ishbalan refugees. Führer Bradley has already stated that he's appalled by such news, yet he also expressed great relief at the efficiency of the military. Already representatives of the refugees have contacted the parliament, requesting permission to move further south so that there won't be any more incidents of such kind. Meanwhile, the terrorists are being held within military headquarters, where they will be questioned for further details. The number of terrorists and the name of the terrorist organization under which they were operating has yet to be disclosed and..."
The doctor that had been listening to the radio broadcast whistled and shook his head. "Never thought I'd hear that kind of thing in my life," he commented. He faced 2nd Lieutenant Maria Ross and Sergeant Bloch. "At least they didn't manage to do anything worse."
Ross and Bloch nodded politely at this, but said nothing. They didn't have to anyway. It was at that moment that the doctor's name was announced through the hospital speakers and he had to leave to tend to his duties.
Bloch was the first to speak of the two. "The Elric Brothers had better not hear about this. Now that Sergeant Beregond and Lieutenant Havoc are missing, they are bound to think the worst."
Ross smiled. "It won't be necessary. Igot a call from Major Armstrong. They've been found."
"They have? That's great!" Bloch exclaimed happily.
However, the young sergeant also realized that something was very off.
"But... why didn't you tell Edward and Alphonse?"
Ross shook her head. "I got direct orders from Armstrong. And that's all I'm going to say to you, since you can't keep a secret to save your life," she said, the acidic tone not absent from her voice.
Bloch bowed his head in shame. "It's not my fault that Edward can prove so scary," he mumbled.
"He's fifteen," Ross reminded him, raising an eyebrow.
"You weren't there to see him really pissed off."
If Ross had any intention of retorting, she never did. She froze, pricking up her ears for a moment, and then she rushed inside Ed's room. Surprised, yet willing to help Ross, Bloch followed her.
Edward was sleeping, but his sleep wasn't a restful one. His hands had clenched into fists, grabbing the blanket tightly, and his head kept lolling sideways. Even his breathing was erratic and shallow.
"What the...?" Bloch started, but Ed's soft sobbing cut him off.
Ross and Bloch's eyes widened, and both soldiers exchanged a bemused glance. In the end, Ross decided that Ed shouldn't be going through such a bad dream, so she shook him awake.
Ed gasped and opened his eyes, frightened. "Wayam!"
"Sir?" Ross asked gently.
Ed blinked once, twice... taking in his surroundings and the sight of the two soldiers that were at his bedside, momentarily lost. In a matter of moments, his breathing had almost returned to normal, and he ran his flesh hand through his sweat- dampened hair in frustration.
"Nothing. Go back to the hall."
And with that he turned his back to Ross and Bloch, not another word coming out of him.
The soldiers could only comply with the command.
"Thank you for taking care of me,"Winry said. She was already standing by the doorstep of the Hughes' residence, her backpack with her gear on her shoulders; she needed it to work on Ed's arm.
"Are you really okay?" Gracia asked, her motherly instincts directed this time to the fifteen-year-old girl. "You can stay here as much as you like while you're here."
"I know," Winry admitted, smiling. "But I can't let myself get spoiled. I'll go find a place by myself once I fix..."
It was then that she felt a very powerful tugging. And as she looked down, she saw Elysia grabbing the sleeve of her jacket with both hands.
"Elysia..." Gracia said. But her daughter hardly paid any attention to her as she still clung to Winry. Gracia sighed in defeat, cupping her face with her hand. "She's gotten completely attached to you."
"Aww, that's sweet!" Maes commented with a grin, also watching the scene. "She looks at you like you're her sister!"
Winry stared at Maes, almost stunned.
"Come back again soon, sis!" Elysia said then, smiling happily.
Gracia couldn't help it; she smiled. "It seems like Elysia has already decided for you. You know now where you'll be staying today, don't you?"
Winry didn't speak for many long moments, her eyes still wide in surprise... In the end, though, she knelt down to give Elysia a tight hug.
"I'm happy to have made a little sister!"
It was then that, suddenly, the telephone rang. Maes hurried inside to pick up the receiver, and both Gracia and Winry heard him when he answered with a brief: "Hello?"
What the two didn't expect was Maes's voice becoming quite serious.
"What? When did this happen?" There was a pause. "I see. I'm coming over there right now." And with that, Maes hung up and came back at Gracia's side.
"Is something wrong?" the woman asked in concern.
"Unexpected trouble, I'm afraid. I'll have to pass by Major Armstrong's house," Maes said with a sigh, holding Gracia delicately by her waist. "Do you remember the way to the hospital on your own, Winry?"
"Of course, Mr. Hughes, don't worry about it," she said with a nod and, after kissing Elysia lightly on the cheek, she turned on her heel and started walking away.
"I'll see you later!" she said as she wove the family goodbye. Moments later, she was well on her way to the hospital.
The man that was sitting handcuffed at the interrogation room in Central Headquarters raised his head to look at the guard in a bored manner. "What now?"
"You've got visitors. It's your wife."
The man raised an eyebrow at this. However, when he saw the inhumanely beautiful woman entering the room, he caught on at once.
"What's the matter, love? Missed me?"
"You could say that," she said, pushing an ebony-colored strand behind her ear.
"All right. You should know the drill, ma'am. Five minutes. Then you'll have to leave."
"Five minutes will be enough," was all she said, a strange smile forming on her lips.
The guard let out a bark of laughter; then closed the door. Only once the door was shut and locked did Lust address the leader of the mercenaries again.
"You had assured me that everything would go according to plan," she said, sitting on a chair with her lady-like grace.
"And it would have if you had done your job and informed me correctly as to what I'd have to deal with."
"You were supposed to kidnap Ishbalans. Don't tell me your trained men couldn't handle them."
"Oh, they could handle /them/,"the leader said indignantly. "They couldn't handle the alchemists that were with the Ishbalans."
"Oh? Care to elaborate?" she asked.
"They were two and they were powerful, I can tell you that. The one pretty much stood out; he was dark-colored, an X-shape mark on his forehead. You probably heard of him through the newspapers as 'Scar' - the alchemist murderer."
Lust kept her features neutral at this, even though she was surprised to hear that Scar actually survived the events of Lab 5. "And what about the other?"
The leader shrugged. "I don't know aname, and he seemed like a pretty much ordinary person but for the sword he wielded."
"Indeed?" Things were beginning to become more and more interesting. "Was it a tall, dark-haired man, his hair long enough to tie in a ponytail?"
The leader snorted. "So you know who Iam talking about. Just like the lieutenant colonel that was oh so lucky to have found me and my men unconscious to arrest us."
Lust raised an eyebrow. "And now I must assume I'm not the first one you talked to."
The leader waved a hand dismissively. "I didn't tell him about you, don't worry. That guy seemed more interested in the alchemist more than anything else."
"Good," the leader said then. "Since you do see and all, can you do something so that I can get out of here?"
Lust smiled. "Of course. That's what Icame here for anyway."
The leader grinned. "Okay. What's the plan?"
That was the last thing he ever said. At the next moment, Lust had elongated one index finger, piercing the man's skull through; then pulled it out, a manic expression settled on her face as her victim crumpled in a heap on the floor.
"I never said you would get out of here/alive/." Standing up, she cast one brief glance at the direction of the body before she knocked at the door.
"You can let me out now, Envy."
The 'guard' did just that, his own grin just as wide as Lust's. "So... is it done?"
Lust shook her head, her chuckling proving quite haunting rather than mirthful. "It has only begun."
What the hell is wrong with me?
That's what Ed kept thinking as he still lied down, his back to the door and his eyes locked stubbornly on the window.
He had that dream. Again. The one where he was he was just a toddler and walked in on his parents as they were dealing with something which, quite clearly, was very bad. And Ed honestly didn't know what to make of it.
If it were a dream, why should he be dreaming about something like that? But... if it were memories, there was great deal of more questions to be answered.
What happened exactly? When had it happened? Why should he remember such a thing /now/, after all this time? Who was that person that Ed, for whatever reason, couldn't recall? The name Wayam shouldn't mean anything to him.
But, more importantly... why did that man look like...?
Damn it, he was getting a headache.
Maybe... maybe Al could help him. Truth be told, however, he didn't have much hope. For one thing, Al hadn't witnessed the scene himself; and even if he had, he must have been barely one year old. He couldn't possibly remember anything.
And there was still the fact that Al had, for one reason or other, shut Ed out. In fact, he barely talked to him anymore, and that disturbed Edward even more.
Wait a minute. In the dream, memory or whatever that was, the bastard told his mother to call the Rockbells. So perhaps there was a chance that Winry knew something.
It was at that moment that the door opened. "Ed?"
Ed could tell that the voice belonged to the very person he wanted to see. Smiling a bit, he turned around. "Hey, Winry. Shall we get started?"
Winry took out her tools and strapped on a working apron, a big grin forming on her lips. "I'm ready when you are."In a matter of moments, she had placed a small table on the bedside, where she put Ed's stretched arm, and then started working on the bolts.
"Didn't you sleep well last night? You look pale," she said.
"Bad dream. Don't worry about it." Ed answered. There was a small pause of silence, and then Ed decided to just go ahead and ask. "Um... Winry?"
Winry lifted her gaze from the automail and turned to him. "What is it?"
"Do you remember the time when Al and I... still had Mom and Dad?"
If the girl was surprised at this, she didn't show it. "Bits and pieces. To tell you the truth I don't remember your dad. "
She was looking at him curiously, Ed could tell.
"Why do you want to know?"
Ed shook his head and settled his face back on his pillow. "In that dream... there was someone else there. A man that both Mom and Dad must have known; even cared for enough to call your parents to come to our house when... something bad happened to him. I just wondered if you remembered anyone else besides my folks in our neighbourhood."
This time it was Winry's turn to shake her head. "I'm sorry, Edward. I don't know who you could mean." She paused, contemplating matters. "Did you ask Al? He might be able to tell you something more," Winry suggested.
"I thought about it," Ed admitted. His voice softened significantly when he added: "But... I don't think he really wants to talk to me right now. And I can't say I blame him."
Winry stopped working, looking at Ed with eyes widened. "What?"
Ed half closed his eyes, lowering his gaze as opening up proved more difficult than he cared to admit. "I had the chance to return him to normal, and I hesitated."
Ed bit his lower lip; nevertheless he knew he had to carry on. "Because I had to sacrifice humans." He was sure he heard a small gasp at this, just like he had expected. His voice softened even more, his sadness clearly reflected in his tone. "To me, they should've been guys I didn't really care about compared to Al. But I couldn't do it. And Al was close by, watching the whole thing."
There was a moment during which neither Ed nor Winry spoke.
"You made the right decision," she finally said, resuming with her work. "Because even if you could return him his body, I'm sure Al wouldn't want you to do it at the expense of others."
That made Ed face her with the intention to object, but Winry proved faster.
"Think about it, Ed. Maybe Al is mad at you because you thought to sacrifice others."
Ed froze, eyes widening. Could it be really that?
"Done!" Winry announced then, cutting Ed off of his musings.
Ed got off the bed and checked his arm, moving it a couple of times to acquaint himself with the feeling of the automail. He was pleased to see that everything was working properly now.
Winry had worked wonders, like always.
"Now let's go to where Al is."
Ed's fears sprang up again within his heart. "But... I don't know what to say."
"Don't be silly. Just say 'I'm sorry.'"Winry laughed. "You really need to tell him some things in words."
Ed thought about it. Maybe Winry was right; perhaps that was the best approach. And, hopefully, everything would be fine in the end.
Ed grinned bravely at the prospect. "Okay. I'll do it."
Al was still at the terrace, at the same place where Ross and Bloch had put him, and he was feeling utterly miserable. He was completely battered, with no arms or legs and completely vulnerable; he could be killed by anyone or anything, if fate was a bit harsher.
Not that he cared too much about that. The dark thoughts that accumulated inside him and were such an odd contrast to the serene, sun-filled day before him, made him indifferent to such worries.
/What if you're a fake? An imitation?/Barry had said.
We're Homunculi, artificially created human beings, had said the woman-like creature.
"Was I ever really human?" Al wondered in a soft voice, looking up at the sky as though hoping that he would be able to find an answer there.
It was then that the door opened. Slightly surprised, Al turned his head to see who it was.
It was Ed, still dressed in hospital garment and in his arms a rather large bag, and Winry.
If Al had a heart, it would have certainly turned as cold as the iron in which his soul resided at seeing these two. No matter how kindly his brother or his friend smiled at him now.
"Al... I'm sorry," Ed said at that moment, oblivious to Al's thoughts. "I'll fix you right away." He placed the bundle on the ground and opened it, revealing all kinds of metallic parts and bolts.
"I got those from Resembool," Winry offered as an explanation. "They should work just fine for you, Al."
Al said nothing. He merely watched Ed as the latter started putting the parts in order so as to perform his alchemy.
That's what his brother was good at after all, wasn't it?
"Al, I won't give up," Edward said again. "We'll restore our bodies our own way, no matter what."
It was only then that Al finally decided to speak, making sure that he kept his emotions in check.
"You may be able to return to normal, Brother. But will I be able to?"
Ed grinned broadly - too broadly, the way Alphonse saw it.
"Of course. Don't worry about it." He stood up, fingers curling and uncurling as if he was warming himself up. "Okay... I'm starting." And with that, Ed clapped and put both hands on Alphonse's shoulder. Blue light surrounded him, and though Al was sure that his limbs were growing back in place, he didn't feel anything until the very end, when he realised that he was standing and looking down at his brother.
Al somehow felt there was some bitter irony in that.
"Well, how does it feel?" Ed asked.
/The new body... or you tricking me?/Before Al knew what he was doing, both his hands clenched into fists. "Did you renew the seal in the armour so that my soul would remain here, just like last time?"
"Yes," Ed replied, nodding with a smile.
And that was what finally made Al snap.
"Along with my memories, I suppose?" The suit of armour felt a pang of grim satisfaction to see Edward's joviality vanish from his features. Now Al planned to take this to the end until he finally made Ed confess. "Memories are only data. An alchemist like you can easily implant fake memories, isn't that right, Brother?"
Ed still looked at Al incredulously. "You... were thinking about such a thing?"
"Why the surprise?" Al answered, his ruthlessness growing along with his anger. "Brother, there was something you started to ask me but you stopped. You said that you meant to ask me a long time. So let me make it easier for you. Were you trying to tell me that my soul and memories were something fake that you created?"
Ed gasped, and his eyes seemed to grow as wide as saucers; but it wasn't he who tried to answer.
"No!" Winry said, taking a step closer to Al. "Ed only wanted to ask you--"
Oh, yes. Of course she would say that, wouldn't she?
"Don't defend him!" Al snapped, finally doing the unthinkable - he pushed her away. And it was clear that she was just as surprised, because she remained looking at him, eyes wide open just like Ed's.
"Al, why...?" she started. But Al was past caring how hurt she sounded at that moment.
"Don't call me like that! The human named Alphonse Elric probably didn't exist in this world to begin with!"
"What are you talking about?" Winry exclaimed. "You two have been together almost forever! Granny and I have been with you too! Believe us, Al!"
Believe. Isn't that what he always did?And that was what he got back as a reward. This... shell!
"What do you expect me to believe? What do you expect me to believe with this empty body of mine?! You could all be lying to me!" he was almost shouting now, unable to control himself.
And Ed, his /brother/, had become awfully quiet.
"Well, Ed? Give me a reason to believe!" Al said, turning at him.
Ed lifted his gaze at him, eyes seeming almost dull. And Ed's reply was an odd mixture of defeat and disappointment. "Is that what you wanted to say all this time? Is that all you have to say?"
"Just answer my question, Brother! Why won't you say anything?! Why?!"
But he only got silence this time.
Well, if Edward didn't intent to give him an answer, Al had no reason in staying at this terrace any longer. Shaking his head, he turned on his heel and started walking away.
Or rather, he would have but for Ed suddenly grabbing one of his gauntlets with both arms.
"Let go!" Al cried, doing his best to pry himself of his brother's grip.
"Will you just listen to me, you idiot?"Ed said, refusing to release his brother.
"I said let go!" Al shouted before backhanding Ed right across his face. Such was his force that Ed was thrown agood two feet away and landed with a heavy thud on the ground.
"Ed!" Horrified, Winry ran at his direction, offering her hand to help him up.
But Ed didn't take it. He pushed himself to his feet, a nasty bruise now marring his face and blood flowing down from the corner of his mouth.
Al stared, stunned. What had he done?
But Alphonse took a step back, away from his brother. "Don't come near me."
"DON'T COME NEAR ME! GET AWAY FROM ME!"And as despair took a hold of him, Alphonse turned and jumped off the terrace. He didn't listen to the frantic cries of his brother, calling out his name; he didn't mind the odd looks that he got from the casual bystanders that saw him land on the ground with a deafening clank; and he didn't care what kind of direction he took as he started running as fast as his feet could carry him. All he wanted to do was to be as far away from everything and everyone.
Because he didn't belong anywhere. Not anymore.
He was nothing but a monster.
It was then that he bumped into something. Or rather, someone, because at the next instant there was a groan of surprise and pain.
Al instantly turned and saw a tall man on the ground, face-down.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean that..." Al stuttered. He gave his hand, hoping he didn't cause much damage to the man.
The man took it while dusting his trousers with his free hand. "It's okay, I wasn't paying atten..." When the man finally looked up, he stared the suit of armour in the eyes incredulously. "Alphonse?"
The stare was returned almost identically. And Alphonse caught himself trembling at the intensity of the relief that washed through him.
End of Part Two
To Be Continued in Shambala - Part 3 -The Philosopher's Stone