Last words were never part of the plan. A sixteen year old should never have to think of his last words, much less die. The world wasn’t done with Edward Elric yet. What about Alphonse? The Rockbells? The countless lives he touched during his journey?
What about his father? Utterly useless as Clark and Wightman held him still, Roy refused to avert his watering eyes from Death. This was where it finally decided to stop walking alongside him, to let go of his hand, and instruct him to follow his son into the depths of hell. The Hero of the People would die first, killed by the Demon of Ishval. Even if Roy wasn’t holding the gun himself, much less pulling the trigger, Edward’s death was still on him. He brought a twelve year old boy into the military. He failed to protect him. He, with his promises of getting their bodies back and persistent idealism, doomed Edward to hell while Alphonse still walked the earth as a suit of armor. Alone.
Worst of all, Alphonse would think the man he dared to call his father killed his brother. He would never learn the truth. No one would. To add to it, Lieutenant Riza Hawkeye… she wouldn’t dare join him in hell, would she? He told her to not give up on life as he continued to trust her with his own. They still had a mission to complete. Amestris still needed to be fixed, to be saved. Without him there…
There would never be another flame alchemist. At the very least, he could keep that promise to her. His last words would be for her and Alphonse, no one else. Edward wouldn’t be able to hear him anyway by the time Dornier turned the gun to him. Bracing himself, Roy stiffened his body as much as he could and waited for Edward to speak. These were his son’s last words, and he needed to hear them.
Of all things to say, Roy did not expect Edward to start with alchemy. Then again, he supposed it was fitting for the both of them. Alchemy got them into this mess. It was what started this horrible cycle of death. Both of Roy’s eyebrows went up in mild confusion as Edward raised his hand. What was he doing? When did he put a glove on? He knew his son tended to wear gloves so others wouldn’t ask about his automail, but why now? Why did he—
Edward’s gloves didn’t have a salamander on them.
Edward’s gloves didn’t have the transmutation circle for flame alchemy on them.
“ I lied.”
Before he could think of the words to say, his son transmuted.
A spark created the massive wall of fire that forced Dornier back as he screamed. Clark and Wightman had no choice but to let their prey go as they ran, not wanting to get caught in the flames like their friend. This wasn’t the mission they signed up for. They took the one glove Mustang had on him along with his sidearm, and that was supposed to be the end of the Hero of Ishval. The brat wasn’t supposed to have his papa’s glove. There wasn’t supposed to be another Flame Alchemist.
Roy swore there wouldn’t be. He promised there wouldn’t be. As he jumped to his feet and bolted, the results of a broken promise reflected in eyes made of obsidian. Fire danced in front of him, and it didn’t come from his hand. The hand that wore his glove—did it feel as heavy to Edward as it did for its true master? Could he feel the weight of blood sewn into every stitch, the thousands of people who died while the fire lived and breathed? Did he feel the surge of raw power that came with summoning hellfire from his fingertips?
||| “My technique is the greatest and most powerful form of alchemy…”
He did. He felt that power, and it was why Roy heard him coughing. Instinctively, he started running. Later, he could yell at Edward for using his alchemy. After Mrs. Rockbell got the bullet out, and Edward started recovering, Roy could lay into him about how reckless of a move this. While he was at it, he could also demand answers for the several questions his mind spat out.
Dornier still had his gun.
Dornier still had his gun, and he pulled the trigger.
The world slowed around him. For all Roy knew, it stopped existing. All he saw was Edward Elric falling to the ground, lifeless gold eyes open in terror after his gun fired. All Roy heard was the sound of his own footsteps as he sprinted to his son, desperate to hear that his heart still beat, that he still breathed, that he was still alive. He skidded into the dirt before he stopped in front of Edward, his knees hitting the ground. There was blood on his son’s face. He coughed up blood after he transmuted. Shit, that hadn’t happened before. He needed to… he needed…
A pulse. If he found that, or at least heard the smallest of wheezes, he could verify that Edward hadn’t died. He just went unconscious, right?
“Edward? Edward, stay with me.” Not a single reply to his pleas. No movement, no sign of his son’s chest rising and falling. “Edward?” Nothing. Gold eyes lacked the fire he saw in them since he left that twelve year old boy in Resembool. They were open, but they contained no fire, no life. “Please, Edward, I just need you to…” A pulse. He needed to find a pulse. His right hand reached for Edward’s left as he pressed his fingers against his son’s wrist. Something. Anything. There had to be—
Nothing. He couldn’t feel a pulse. Edward’s heart wasn’t beating.
“Edward, please. Don’t. Don’t you dare die. Please.” Roy refused to acknowledge the tears flooding his eyes as his voice trembled. Did Death want him to beg? To be on his hands and knees while he pleaded for his son to come back to him? Fine. “Don’t do this. Don’t leave me alone like this. Please, Edward, get up!”
A gun cocked behind him. He could feel the metal against the back of his head. Unfortunately, while the world ceased to exist for Roy Mustang, it continued spinning for everyone else.
“The kid was already a demon.” Dornier’s breathing was heavy now as he stood above his prey. “But you had to make him into a worse one like you.”
Not a word left Roy’s lips. He heard Dornier speak, but the words failed to register as he held his son’s left hand. There still wasn’t a pulse. His son was really… he was dead. Edward William Elric—no, Elric-Mustang—died.
“I am your guardian only on paper, Fullmetal.”
“I was twelve, Colonel.”
“Colonel? Do you….ev’r have….nightmares?”
“Yeah… they started after I was deployed, and got worse once I was in East City.”
“I just - I didn’t want - I didn’t want you ta waste yer time on this. You have more important things ta focus on than - this.”
“I can help ya unpack if ya want.”
“Lemme know if I do it wrong. It’s been a while, and I’d hate to screw up your look.”
“No one cared ta stay ‘round.”
“If you’re going to make pasta, use the stuff we brought last weekend. You just cleaned that kitchen. The colonel doesn’t need a re-enactment of the story you just told.”
“Play with yer damn cat, n’ keep yer trap shut, Al.”
“You - you want me ‘ere? You actually want us? We’re a coupla broken orphans, Colonel.”
“Whoever told you that is wrong.”
“Dunno it’s been a minute. I wouldn’t say crash though. Dad, can we tell’em now?”
“I dunno. Think they can handle it?”
He might not be able to speak. His body might have succumb and he might have returned to sleep but his hand rested on the ground next to himself giving a very loud but silent meaning to anyone who could read it. ‘I love you.’
“I’m sorry, Edward. I’m so, so sorry. I love you, Edward.”
The memories that flooded his senses left him to drown. They filled his lungs and nearly rendered him breathless, tears rushing down dirt-covered cheeks. His son was dead. Holding Edward’s hand in one of his own, he slowly inched the glove off. He didn’t need it anymore. Dead people couldn’t be brought back to life, and they couldn’t perform alchemy.
Instinctively, Roy put that glove on, every movement slow to not alert Dornier. Though, did it really matter? He was about to die too, and he couldn’t have the flashy exit his son did. Edward always did have a flair for the dramatic. Hopefully, the people of Amestris remembered that part of him too. He hoped they remembered their true hero fondly.
“Don’t worry, Mustang.” Right, Dornier was still here, and he still had a gun pointed at his prey while his finger hovered over the trigger. “You won’t have to miss him long. You can beg for his forgiveness in hell.”
Once upon a time, hell was a place on earth. Hell was Ishval while the war continued on. In the desert, underneath the smoke, fire, and smell of charred human remains, a hellhound was not only born, but thrived. It breathed in that dry air, and, with a simple snap, it turned the last breaths of the innocent into fuel for its rage. Into fire. Once the war finished, the beast got locked away, imprisoned and chained underneath Roy Mustang’s cool facade. A beast like that couldn’t exist in the world he envisioned.
Alas, its chain broke, and its prison could no longer hold it. Ravenous just like the element it commanded, it turned its head ever so slightly towards Colonel Dornier.
The Flame Alchemist’s left hand, covered in a glove made of ignition cloth, sparked even before he rubbed two fingers together. That was the only light his transmutation produced. Like Edward’s still-open eyes, there was no fire. There was no heat, no engulfing warmth to surround the two living soldiers left in this forsaken forest. There was nothing.
His gun fell out of Dornier’s hand, clattering on the ground as the man clutched at his throat. In front of him, the Flame Alchemist rose to stand, his right hand tightening the fabric of his glove. Only one glove to work with? More than enough. The average lung capacity for a healthy human adult was approximately six liters. He could work with that.
This was for his son. He couldn’t save him or bring him back to life, but he could damn well ensure the man who killed him didn’t get any sort of mercy.
“He was sixteen, Dornier.” No need to raise his voice when his prey was only about a foot and a half away. Though, could he hear him as his lungs threatened to give out? Irrelevant. “He was sixteen years old, and you killed him. You’re going to regret killing him first.”
“Mustang.” He couldn’t breathe. Eyes widened in terror as he stared up, he couldn’t breathe. “Mustang, ple—”
Oxygen didn’t have a chance to get into his lungs. Kneeling on the ground as he gasped for air, Dornier held one hand to his chest. Goddammit, he couldn’t breathe.
“I begged you not to kill him.” The Flame Alchemist couldn’t care less. His tone lacked its usual cockiness, that confidence that no one would dare cross him. Instead, it stayed low and malevolent, his words barely containing the fury coursing through him. “You don’t get to beg me.”
There was the fire. It sprang to life as it engulfed Dornier’s left leg, causing the man to screech in pain. No one heard it. No one who could save him heard what it felt like to be burned alive. This was nothing like the burn he received when Mustang cauterized his wound. At least then, he blacked out from the pain. At least then, the Flame Alchemist gave him some form of mercy.
“Not. Another. Word.” A command. An order that Dornier knew he’d have to obey. “You didn’t give my sixteen year old son mercy, so why the hell should I give any to you?” He growled as his gloved hand sparked. It remained on his hand, the red transmutation circle almost glowing. “Do you know what it takes to cremate a human being? A fire needs to stay at a constant thirteen hundred degrees Fahrenheit to reduce a human body to dust. Edward Elric was sixteen years old, and he endured almost double that temperature. Let’s see how long you last.”
Again, all of the oxygen left his lungs. Just when he thought he could breathe for a couple of seconds, he gasped for air once more. Choking, Colonel Albert Dornier dared to look up and meet the other’s gaze.
“I’m going to make you feel everything he felt. Consider this Equivalent Exchange.”
This was Colonel Roy Mustang. State Alchemist, famed Hero of Ishval.
This was the Flame Alchemist.
What happened? What’s going on? Where is he? Where’s Papa? Why doesn’t his chest hurt? In fact, nothing hurts. He almost can’t even feel his own weight at all. What’s going on? His vision is blurry as he opens his eyes and he looks about the space around him. It’s all so bright. It’s all so white. It’s all so very white.
“I see your luck’s run out Young Alchemist.”
“Whatever will you do now?”
Golden eyes can only blink at the creature before him. The world, the creator, the universe, the one and the all. This being before him encompasses everything. This being before him is the great creator that so many bow their heads to. This being is the one true being that is responsible for weaving the threads of the universe. The almighty. God.
He’s always been a conundrum but most didn’t know he was the boy who met God only to spit in their face. He was one of the few people on the face of the planet who had done the impossible and stand in the face of God and survive and instead standing in their reverence, he chose to turn his back on them and damn their existence as folly and make-believe.
He was a conundrum as the boy who met God and then claimed there simply were no such thing.
No non-existent God would save them and existing ones wouldn’t either. Not without a price.
“The portal?” His voice rings out clearer than it had in days. His voice rings out but it does not echo like it usually does. He doesn’t feel the same weight around himself as he did when he was pulled in here only two nights prior. Certainly hasn’t been long has it.
“What happened? Why am I here?” He sounds attention drifting as he finds his eyes wandering as if there was something else to take in other than a blank empty void of white.
“What do you mean Young Alchemist? You died.”
Gold eyes shoot wide as the words hit him square in the chest. Died? He died? He couldn’t remember - he couldn’t remember what just -
The sound of clanking armor doesn’t give him the chance to think on it. His attention is jerking to the side with ever widening moons as they take in the sight of armor he knows all too well.
It’s a gut instinct to call for his sibling as he rushes over to the younger Elric’s side. His brother is shaking his helm out. Red glowing eyes are looking about the space they’re in just the same as he did only moments before. They stop on him. They stop on him and arms come forward and wrap around him as tightly as possible before they release him again.
“Brother! Brother you’re okay! Brother I was so scared -”
“No he isn’t and neither are you, Alchemist. I’m afraid your luck’s run out and you’ve both died.”
Edward can feel his breathing pick up but his heart rate isn’t spiking. He can’t feel his own heart. He can’t feel it beating in his chest. He can’t feel his - anything.
“Oh God. Oh God. Oh God.”
Edward is chanting out the words as his gaze falls to the white space below his feet, with eyes drawing out as he stares at somewhere else entirely.
“I really am dead.”
“I’m right here and yes I warned you what would happen to him when you perished, did I not?”
He’s panicking. This can’t be happening. This cannot be happening!
If he has to die that’s fine he supposes. He doesn’t really want to but it’s okay if it’s him but only him. Al couldn’t - Al couldn’t. Al couldn’t be dead just because he is. That’s not fair.
Since when has this creature - this God ever cared about fair?
His heart rate would be through the roof under normal circumstances but these circumstances aren’t really normal are they? His breathing is supposed to hurt but it doesn’t. He can’t feel the bullet in his chest but that’s probably because this isn’t his body is it….just his soul then. Just his soul got pulled into the portal. So this is where they go when they die or it is just foolish alchemists who don’t know how to stay out of places they don’t belong?
“No nonono noooonononono noooo NO that c’n’t be right! AL c’n’t be dead. HE didn’t die! I DID. M’little brother c’n’t DIE jus’ ‘coz I did! That’s not how this WORKS!!” There’s even a stomped foot to emphasize his point. His arms are working to move out to each side as they flail wide.
Arms. He has both his arms…. He’s looking down at himself to see two hands. Two looking back at them both made of flesh and blood. He’s bent over in half a second to pull up the left leg of his pants and sure enough there is nothing beneath the fabric but skin and bone.
“M-M-M-m’a-au-aut-auto-automail - g-g-gone. A-A-Al s’gone. S’gone!”
“Of course it’s gone. Your body was returned to its original state at the moment of your death, but seeing as how your spirits are intertwined when your life ceased to be so did your brother’s. Your body was functioning to keep your brother’s alive. Your spirit was the bridge between the two. Your blood binds his to the shell his spirit so desperately clung to. When your body perished all the delicate systems that supported your brother’s life collapsed. Were you not aware of this, Alchemist? Surely you knew just how fragile the balance of your brother’s life was.”
He can’t speak, and he can only feel a hand coming down to slip into his own. Even in death Al’s body wasn’t returned but his was? That just wasn’t fair. That just wasn’t fair! That just wasn’t - he couldn’t allow his brother’s spirit to carry on trapped in armor even in death. He wouldn’t allow it. He wouldn’t. When they set out on this journey it was for both of them. It was all or nothing and he would not let his brother be damned to such a fate while he got rewarded for missing the mark so spectacularly.
“Any’hin’!” He’s shouting before he realizes what he’s doing, free hand at his chest, free hand over his heart. He can feel his brother squeeze at his right. “I c’n’t accept this. I WON’T accept this! Take what you want from m’! Any’hin’! Any’hin’ at all! Ev’ry’hin’! I don’t CARE jus’ put Al BACK the way ‘e was! PLEASE ‘m beggin’ you!”
“Brother! Brother no! You can’t! You promised!”
“Alphonse this is NOT the time! I PROMISED I’d git you yer body back no matter what, n’ dyin’ ain’t gunna stop m’!” His gaze is back on the omnipotent being before him glowing with divinity as it looks back at him with a faceless expression. “Now, what d’ya want from m’? Name yer price n’ I’ll pay it.”
“I had a feeling your desperation would rear its head, Alchemist, but I quite vividly remember you telling me that you’d give me nothing only a few nights ago and it was quite boldly at that. I do find it curious how death seems to bring out the groveling in you humans.”
There is a hard intake of air through Edward’s nose at the comment as his body stiffens and he also very vividly remembers that conversation - the short one he had with this God right before his brother was pulled into the portal as well during the only decent night’s sleep he’s seen in days. His face firms as his brows up turn and he can feel that sense of dread creeping into his form. He - did he - did he damn them by upholding his promise? Did he damn them by upholding his promise not to throw anymore of himself out as a toll in the name of solving problems?
Well there wasn’t time for that now.
“Please.” He sounds. “I’ll give you any n’ ev’ry’hin’ I have left.” There’s tears lining his waterline as his head hangs low. “S’not fer m’, but fer Al. You c’n have m’. I’ll stay ‘ere. I’ll stay dead but I c’n’t let Al. I c’n’t let m’little brother die jus’ ‘coz I fucked up. Please don’t make’im suffer fer m’mistakes. Al doesn’t deserve this. ‘E nev’r has.”
There’s a silence that overtakes the entire space for several drawn out moments until the air becomes thick with anticipation.
“Even if I wanted to that jus’ won’t work, Alchemist. His body is too closely tied to yours. If I revive one of you, I must revive both or he’ll just end up back here within the hour. You see my dilemma? You simply cannot stay dead in order for your brother to be saved as you so put it.”
They have to both be revived in order for one of them to be revived. Alphonse cannot live without him. Alphonse cannot live without him. Then it’s that simple. It’s not even a question. He’ll live. Plain and simple. No other way around it. Then he’ll live if that’s what it means to save Alphonse. Anything to save Alphonse.
“Then - Then - lemme think - hold on -”
“Brother you can’t be serious!”
“Al! Quiet. Lemme think!” He’s growling in frustration even as he crushes his brother’s hand in his grip. Vision locked on the white beneath him as he racks his mind for all possibilities to find a solution to this equation. All equations had solutions he just needed to find it.
His head is jerking up as his focus on the God before him and again he pleads.
“Take m’years then!”
He can hear the sound of curiosity leave the being of white and the jerking turn in his brother’s helm.
“Ev’ry time I die. Take a toll outta m’! I’ll give you m’years! As many as you want! Whatev’r I have left you c’n put a toll on m’ - a penalty fer dyin’.”
“A penalty? Interesting? I will take a penalty from you and I will bring you back to your living body. As an added penalty you don’t get to keep those.” There’s a white hand raised, pointing and motioning to his newly regained limbs.
Edward’s hand is covering his heart as he speaks, opposing hand crushing down on his brother’s.
“Take them. They’re yours. Any’hin’ you want but you c’n only take from m’. Al didn’t die’a’is own right so you c’n’t punish’im fer it.”
There’s a moment as the being thinks, a wide grin spreading out as teeth are bared at the concept.
“Very well, Alchemist. For every time you die I will take ten years from you as a penalty for dying, but I will only revive you three times. How do your people say it? Three strikes you’re out? This is not an indefinite way of cheating death, Young Alchemist. Understand that. Three times and that’s all I’ll allow. Die a fourth time and you’re both mine.”
There’s a hard swallow as Edward gives a firm nod. “I understand.”
“Then let it be done.”
There’s a hiss of air pulled into his lungs as his senses fill with the smell of smoke and dirt. His vision is blurry and he can feel the weight of his chest. He can feel the weight of his lungs and he can feel the constant pressure pain of the bullet pushing into his flesh and restricting the amount of air he can draw in.
He could hear someone choking but it wasn’t him. He could hear someone wheezing but it wasn’t him. That’s right. He remembers now. He remembers. Dornier shot him. He shot him while he was suffocating.
||||| “I’m going to make you feel everything he felt. Consider this Equivalent Exchange.”
His eyes take a moment to refocus as the voice that sounds almost demonic fills his senses and he’s looking around trying to find the source all while being unable to move. He can see him. He can see the glove sparking. His Papa. His Papa. He’s really alive. He’s really alive again and that means he’s stuck in this fucking forest with him and they need to get home to Al. They need to get home to Al.
He can see it as his Papa pulls the oxygen from the air surrounding their attacker and the man can only kneel in front of him and choke.
[[ Papa Don’t. ]]
He’s mouthing the words but no sound leaves him.
[[ Papa Stop. ]]
Again he tries to force the words from his lungs but his vocal chords fail to comply. Tears rush his water line and stream down his face. He can’t stop him. He doesn’t want to watch him die. He doesn’t want to watch anyone die. Violence only begets more violence and he’s not worth anyone else dying over, even if the man in question is twisted.
He needs to tried for this. He needs to be handed over to investigations. He needs to be brought to justice for trying to murder them. He still doesn’t deserve to die.
The smallest of squeaks leaves him as he tries again to tell his father to stop but mouthed words will never reach the elder’s ears.
He doesn’t have the strength for this. He doesn’t have the energy. He needs to get back to Alphonse. He needs to get home. He needs to get to Grandma.
[[ Papa please don’t. ]]