ZaKai Stonewall (zakai_) wrote,
ZaKai Stonewall
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Descent - Chapter 47

Title: Descent
Fandom: Fullmetal Alchemist
Rating: R – NC17
Reference: Anime. A few things and people have been pulled from the manga here and there.
Type: Angst, Divergence (splits off from episode 32), Drama, Romance, Mystery, Political, Yaoi, Het, etc.
Pairings: Roy/Ed, Al/Winry, (other minor pairings both yaoi and het)
Warnings: Language, Sex (both yaoi and het), Violence, etc.
Summary: After getting Al’s body back, Ed finds that life after reaching his goal wasn’t what he expected. As the country faces the threat of civil war, will Ed be able to handle life without Alphonse constantly by his side, or will he simply substitute one companion for another?

Chapter Listing Here

A/N:

I'm having a bit of a dilemma. This story is a long story. Already it is long, but the outline of it... well, it is a long story. Thus far, I already have over 200,000 words. This is massive by itself, but knowing that the story is going to be even longer, I have been struggling with the idea of splitting the story up into a sequel or even a trilogy (yes, it's going to be that long).

I know not many people are reading this story anymore, and that's alright. I'm well aware that most people don't want to read huge novel length fanfics. But because I really love this story I plan to finish it no matter what.

Anyway, so to the idea of splitting it. I very well may end up doing that. Mostly I'm giving you a heads up now, so that you can be prepared if I do that. Should that be the case, I will inform you of the name of the sequel at the end of the last chapter.

Thank you to all of you who have been reading. I hope you've enjoyed the story thus far, though I do apologize for some of the long spaces without updates.


Descent

Chapter Forty-Seven

Lost and Found


Al laid in his bedroll and stared up at the morning sky, watching as the deep black of night turned into a dark blue, then increasingly lighter. It had been almost a week since he’d left Rizembool with Russell, and they’d kept off the main roads, which meant they had a lot of wild area to go through. The going hadn’t been particularly rough, and had it been under other circumstances, Al might even have enjoyed himself. But the knowledge that a passing soldier or troop could possibly lead to his arrest and imprisonment kept him from enjoying the landscape to it’s fullest.

That, and being away from Winry.

It was only now that Al was realizing how much he’d taken for granted; how he’d taken her for granted. He missed looking at her and talking with her. He missed her cooking and even the way she scolded him for being too overprotective. He missed it all. The time he’d had with her was so precious, and he’d taken it all for granted. Now all he wanted to do was hold her in his arms and be with her.

A bird began to sing somewhere in the trees, welcoming in the morning, but with the heaviness of his thoughts, it was difficult for Al to enjoy the twittering song.

Apparently there was a lot he’d taken for granted. Being out on the move like this brought back bittersweet memories of all those years he’d traveled the countryside with Ed. They’d been so close and so united in their goals, and then... He shook his head, suddenly angry at himself for his foolish insecurities and the childish way he’d behaved when it came to his brother.

They could have mended this rift months ago, if only one of them had reached out. Al wanted to say that he had tried, but he knew that his efforts had been weak. He could have tried harder, but that wasn’t the way it was. Ed had always been the one to come looking for him when they’d gotten into fights, not the other way around.

Yet, even that was just an excuse. Sometimes Ed was stubborn. This wasn’t something new. If only... But no. No ‘if only’s. What was done, was done; and what wasn’t done... well, there was no turning back time.

Idly, Al scratched at his neck, then up to his ear. Immediately his fingers found one of the earrings he now wore. He touched the small, thin hoop with a bit of sadness. He was now married, but he couldn’t be with his wife. And, because of his stubbornness, his brother, the only family he had left, hadn’t been there to see it happen.

And now, after all of that, he was alone.

He frowned. No, not alone, not exactly in the literal sense of the word. He did have Russell, but it just wasn’t the same; and, sometimes, Russell didn’t seem the same as he had in the past. Al couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but every now and then, Russell felt off somehow. Had this been what had bothered Winry? Was this what she’d noticed about Russell that Al hadn’t?

The sound of someone moving through the bushes caught his attention and Al glanced over in time to see Russell coming into the small area they’d chosen for their campsite, as if the very thought had summoned him. When Russell saw that Al was awake, he smiled and tossed over an apple.

“Found breakfast,” Russell said jauntily. “Though, you should probably have been more on your toes.” He raised an eyebrow. “What if I’d been a soldier?”

Al caught the apple deftly and sat up. “We haven’t seen any soldiers yet,” he said, wiping the apple on his shirt then taking a bite. That, at least, was one thing to be grateful for. Despite the hurried rush to leave Rizembool, no one seemed to have been sent after them. In fact, Al was starting to wonder if perhaps they’d overreacted.

“That doesn’t mean there won’t be,” Russell said warningly. “We have to watch our backs. We could have soldiers from Rizembool following after us right now.”

“We don’t even know if the soldiers in Rizembool are aware that we had anything to do with... with what happened.” Al said, vocalizing his thoughts. “We’ll probably be fine for a while.”

“Maybe,” Russell said. “But we’re heading for The People’s Army, don’t forget that. The closer we get to our destination, the more likely it is to be stopped by the military. There are soldiers on the look out for anyone joining up with them. I hear they’re not very forgiving.”

“Maybe,” Al said slowly. “I still think we’ll probably be okay.”

Russell shrugged. “You could be right, but I’m just trying to be practical. If we do run into trouble, we have to be ready...” He trailed off and looked at Al more closely. “You going to use that technique of yours again? It could come in really handy.”

Al licked the white meat of the apple slowly, tasting its sweetness, then lowered the fruit and shook his head. “I don’t want anything to do with that again,” he said. “It’s just... it was just wrong. I felt like I was invading something I had no business invading. Like... like I was... raping his mind...”

Al rubbed at his eyes. How could he possibly explain this to Russell, or to anyone for that matter? The whole experience had been surreal. He still couldn’t get a grasp on what had happened or how it had felt, and he wasn’t sure if he’d ever be able to explain it to someone else. Because, really? How could you explain what it felt like to literally be in more than one place at a time? It seemed impossible, yet it had happened.

“It’s a powerful defense, though,” Russell said.

“I don’t like it,” Al said, dropping his hand and looking at Russell. “Sometimes I close my eyes and I can see it again so clearly. I was there in that soldier’s mind. I didn’t belong there, and I think that if that man had had a more powerful... I don’t know, maybe ‘life force’ is the best way to describe it, then I might have been the one who died instead of him.”

“But you didn’t,” Russell said, almost congratulatory. “You triumphed. You had the stronger will and the advantage of surprise.”

Al glared at Russell. “I don’t want to kill people, and I most certainly don’t want to kill them by taking over their body and mind.”

Russell moved over and sat down beside Al. “I’m not saying that you’d have to do that,” he said earnestly. “Just think about it. What if you could just... stop them... for a while. Not kill their minds, but maybe imprison them for a time? They’d still be alive mentally and physically.”

“I don’t know how that would be much better,” Al muttered. “How would you like to be a prisoner in your own mind?”

“Okay, sure I see what you’re saying,” Russell said dismissively. “But what if it were possible to construct, say, a temporary barrier in their minds? You could make it go away after a while, right? That would be perfect for trying to escape from someone. Or, if you have to take someone captive, you could make it last until you make it go away, right?”

“I... I don’t know,” Al said hesitantly, feeling a little pressured. “I mean, I’ve only done this once. I’m really not sure if I could do all of that...”

“But you never know until you try, right?” Russell said, sounding excited about the prospect.

“It’s possible...” Al admitted grudgingly. “But it’s not like I have anyone to experiment on. And what if something went wrong? That person’s mind... their soul... could be destroyed forever. I don’t know if I could risk it just for the sake of finding out.”

“Just keep your gloves on,” Russell said with a shrug. “You never know when we’ll be attacked and then you can use that as practice.”

“I just said I didn’t want to experiment on anyone,” Al said in annoyance.

“You can’t be wishy-washy in life or death situations.”

Scowling, Al pulled the gloves out of his pocket and looked down at them. He didn’t like to think of what he could do with them. Putting a piece of his soul into an inanimate object was one thing, taking over the mind and body of a living human being was another.

“No, they’re too uncomfortable to wear all the time,” Al said, trying to give a different excuse. He didn’t want to argue about this. “It’s the middle of the summer and my hands get all hot and sweaty.”

“Your brother never seemed to have a problem with it,” Russell said with a smirk.

Al snorted and shook his head. “My brother complained about how uncomfortable it was all the time when he first started wearing them. He got better about it as he got older, but he still complained.” And yet, despite all the complaining, Ed wore the gloves all the time. Being seen as ‘normal’ was more important than being comfortable.

“You know what you need?” Russell said. “You need to get those arrays tattooed on your hands. Some people have done that, you know. Then you’d always have it available without being uncomfortable.”

Al rolled his eyes. He should have known Russell would be able to come up with a counter argument for that. “Eh... no. I’ve heard that tattooing anything on the palms of your hands hurts a lot. I’d rather not.”

Russell rolled his eyes. “Are you always this much of a baby?”

“I’m not a baby,” Al said, offended. “I just prefer to avoid pain when possible.” He unconsciously brought a hand up to touch his ear, then stopped himself.

“Right. You’re a baby,” Russell mocked, then stood up. “We should get going.”

Annoyed at the insult, but glad the subject about taking over people’s minds and souls had been dropped for now, Al took another bite of the apple, then set it aside in favor of preparing to leave.

;-;-;-;-;-;-;


Ed rested his head on the desk and yawned widely. It had been three days since he’d started his new training, and he’d hardly gotten any sleep. When he’d said that he could read all of the back material in a week, Ed had completely forgotten that he had a job working at a fucking desk now and that he couldn’t spend his days researching like he had in the past. As a result, he’d stayed awake almost all night on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and now he was feeling the strain. He’d have to sleep soon or he’d just collapse.

There was a knock on the door, and Ed sat up straight, stretched, then patted his face sharply to bring himself back to the land of the living and the awake.

“Come in,” he said loudly. The door opened, and Vato Falman walked into the room.

“You wanted to see me?” he asked politely.

Ed nodded. “Shut the door and take a seat,” he said, motioning toward the couches as he got up and walked toward them himself.

Jacobs had said something last night about making his subordinates his eyes and ears. Something about how Ed couldn’t be in more than one place at once, and how loyal subordinates could act in that capacity. The trick, Jacobs had said, was to find subordinates who were actually loyal to you.

Ed knew that his subordinates had been loyal to Roy as their commanding officer and leader, but he wasn’t so sure they were actually loyal to him. They liked him, he supposed, maybe even wanted to look out for him, but loyal? Probably not.

When they were seated Ed took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He’d been thinking about this all night, and didn’t want to screw it up.

“Thank you for coming,” Ed said, then paused. He’d wanted to sound polite, but was that too polite? Should he, as Falman’s superior, be thanking him for doing something that he was doing only because Ed was his commanding officer?

He cleared his throat and continued, “I noticed you talking to Colonel Henry Douglass a few days ago. You seemed pretty friendly. I didn’t know the two of you were so...” Ed scrambled mentally to find the words he wanted. “So well acquainted.” Yes, that sounded good.

“We’re not friends, if that’s what you’re implying,” Falman said guardedly.

“No... I just...” Ed could feel sweat starting to prickle on his forehead. This was a lot harder than he’d imagined it would be. “As you probably already know, Douglass and I don’t really get along.” He paused again, mentally examining what he’d just said, and trying to decide what he should say next.

“It’s not exactly a secret,” Falman said, watching Ed closely.

“Breda seems to think he has it out for me,” Ed said with a grin he hoped looked genuine, as if the idea was too ridiculous to consider.

“He does,” Falman confirmed bluntly.

Ed hadn’t expected Falman to be so blunt about it, but perhaps he should have, given Falman’s tendency to be serious and literal at times. Slowly, Ed nodded. To hear it said outright like that was a little unnerving, but he supposed that this was a good sign. If Falman was Douglass’s man, then he might have been less open about that, though that didn’t really tell Ed whether or not Falman would be his man.

“Is that what he said?” Ed asked, and wondered if he was being too blunt. Probably he was. Roy would have been much smoother, Ed was sure, but since this wasn’t his strong point, he’d just have to do his best.

“Not... directly,” Falman said slowly. “But he’s watching you. He wants to catch you doing something wrong.”

“I guess I haven’t done a good job of making friends,” Ed said wryly.

“No, you haven’t.”

“And he’s shared all this information with you? I mean, isn’t that kind of risky with you being my subordinate?”

Falman didn’t say anything right away, but instead looked at Ed, considering. Ed shifted slightly, feeling uncomfortable and hot under Falman’s gaze. He felt a trickle of sweat slide down the back of his neck and hoped that his face wasn’t as sweaty as the rest of his body felt.

Finally, Falman said, “Permission to speak freely?”

“Uh, yeah. Sure,” Ed said.

“Are you testing me?”

“Huh?” Ed blinked in surprise, then forced his features into something that he hoped was a neutral expression. “Testing you?”

“I’m not working for Douglass,” Falman said. “But he thinks I sympathize with him, so he’s been talking to me lately. I’ve been hoping he’d have some information on the colonel, but so far he hasn’t said anything useful. He has made it very clear, without implicitly saying so, that he plans to get rid of you in whatever way he can.”

Ed let out a long breath, feeling grateful for Falman’s upfront attitude, disappointment that there was still no word about Roy, and frustration at being a target.

“I wasn’t trying to imply that you were working for Douglass,” Ed said carefully.

There was another long pause, then Falman said, “You’re horrible at this.” Ed opened his mouth, then closed it again, feeling a little insulted even though the statement was true. “If you’re trying to figure out if you can trust me, then the answer is ‘yes’. You can. I’d have thought you’d already know that by now.” There was a slight chiding note in Falman’s tone, and Ed felt more heat rise to his cheeks, this time from embarrassment.

“Yeah, I know. I’m sorry,” Ed said, feeling like an idiot now. “But I had to know.”

Falman nodded, seeming to understand all that statement meant. “I think you have good intentions. I don’t want to see anything bad happen to you.”

He seemed sincere, and his face held a little bit of concern, but there were no assertions there about Falman being loyal to him. He tried to figure out how Roy would go about trying to find out, but truthfully he had no idea and this whole ‘trying to be stealthy’ thing was giving him a headache. So Ed finally decided to just say what was on his mind.

“Can I trust you?” Ed asked point blank. “I need to know what’s going on around me, and I need people who I can trust to tell me things.” Ed knew he probably sounded exactly as inexperienced as he was, but it wasn’t as if Falman had any illusions that he was some sort of seasoned officer.

Falman considered him silently and as the seconds ticked on Ed started to worry that perhaps he’d gone about this all wrong, but finally Falman said, “Can I trust you?”

“What do you mean?” Ed asked in confusion.

“Can I trust you not to run off and do something stupid with the information I give you?”

The question was a fair one, and Ed knew it. Truthfully, Ed wasn’t sure. He was trying to be more mature and take time to think things through, but he knew that he still often acted on impulse. And yet, Ed knew that if he didn’t give Falman something to believe in, there was no way the man would trust him.

“I’m working on that,” Ed finally said. “A lot.” He watched Falman’s face and instantly knew that it wasn’t enough. But Ed couldn’t get himself to lie. “I want to tell you that I won’t be impulsive,” Ed added. “I want to tell you that I’m going to be the most mature person you’ve ever met. But I’m not going to lie to you. I don’t know what will happen in the future, and neither do you. I want to trust you, and I want you to trust me, but I can’t make it happen.”

Ed felt as though he’d just laid everything out on the table for the pickings, and was sure that Jacobs would probably have some sharp words about how he’d gone about this completely wrong, but he’d done the best he knew how.

Falman folded his arms and looked at Ed thoughtfully for several long minutes, then finally he nodded, as if satisfied by something.

“I’ll keep you informed as long as you keep yourself together,” Falman said. “I don’t like putting myself at risk needlessly. I’m not a fighter like you, and I don’t work with special operations out in the field like Havoc or even Hawkeye. I work with information and that can be just as dangerous as being out with the guns.”

Ed nodded in understanding. Falman was letting him know that a careless action by Ed could get Falman killed. He was taking a risk by trusting Ed enough to give him information. Ed pressed his lips together in determination. He would show Falman that his trust wasn’t misplaced. He’d show Breda, Havoc, and Hawkeye too. He’d show them all.

;-;-;-;-;-;-;


Bartholomew Kagegkuski didn’t bother looking away from the map he was studying when there was a knock on one of the tent supports. The boy who was there as his errand boy would find out who was at the tent flap and what they wanted. If it was important, then the boy would interrupt him. There were murmurings outside, and only when the boy returned and stepped up to him did Bartholomew look up.

“Um...” the boy began, clearly uneasy. “The Ishballans are back.”

Bartholomew frowned. He’d expected them to take longer. But no matter. Sooner was better than later in war time.

“Show them in,” he said, standing up and pressing on his back to relieve the ache there. The boy pulled open the tent flap and the two elders from before stepped in. And then a third man stepped inside. This one was tall and had an X shaped scar on his face.

“And so I am privileged to meet the man the military calls ‘Scar’,” Bartholomew said politely. There was only a grunt in acknowledgement. So, a man of few words was this ‘Scar’. Well that was fine with Bartholomew. As long as the Ishballans and Scar decided to join his cause, he wouldn’t care if the man never uttered a single word in his presence.

Bartholomew looked Scar up and down, sizing him up. He was tall and heavily muscled, very much like Bartholomew himself. His face held the expression of a man who guarded his emotions and who expected more of the world than what it gave. This was the man who killed state alchemists out of righteous indignation. He did it on his own and without representation from his countrymen, but Bartholomew wanted Scar to work with him. He wanted to give the man a place in his army to fight against those who had destroyed his people.

There would be state alchemists who came against them—there already had been state alchemists in the battles they’d fought. Luckily, the military hadn’t bothered to send their best, and Bartholomew’s own alchemists had done a decent job of countering them, but eventually the military would begin sending their elite. Bartholomew needed better alchemists, and he needed someone like Scar who wanted to bring down the state alchemists.

Bartholomew glanced at the Ishballan elders. And he needed the Ishballan people behind the scenes, able to supply his army and be available to take care of the wounded. Hopefully this meeting would bring an alliance between his group and the Ishballans, and between himself and Scar.

;-;-;-;-;-;-;


As was his morning habit, Breda headed over to the corner newsstand near Central Headquarters. It never failed that he arrived right as the stand opened at the crack of dawn, and the owner—a gangly man in his late forties named Don—greeted him by name and they chatted idly for several minutes about sports, girls, and food, while he set up the stand.

“Well, now,” Don said, picking up the first paper on the stack and looking at it. “This might be something that’ll interest you.”

Curious, Breda took it and scanned down the page until he saw... His eyes opened and he stared at it in disbelief. It was so random. So completely unexpected. Hurriedly, Breda dug a few bills out of his picket and thrust them into Don’s hand before turning and rushing away. He was vaguely aware of Don calling after him about his change, but Breda didn’t pay any attention. He had to let the others know. They had to talk. When had the military talked to the paper? Why hadn’t anything else been said?

Hundreds of questions flew through Breda’s mind and he was already trying to plan what they should do. Then one question came to him and he stopped dead. What about Ed? It wasn’t a question about whether they should tell him or not. By mid-morning everyone who cared to know would know. The question was: What would Ed do when he found out? Could they trust him not to over react? Should he tell Ed first, in person?

He stood there, glancing around. Right now the streets and sidewalks were relatively empty. Most people were still asleep, including Ed. After another moment of internal debate, Breda changed directions and headed for the dorms. He’d tell Falman first, then together they’d go over to Havoc’s place, then Hawkeye’s. They needed to decide how to handle this as a group.

;-;-;-;-;-;-;


Ed yawned widely as he dropped the cigarette butt into the garbage and started toward the front entrance of Central Headquarters. He’d read late into the night until finally succumbing to his body’s need for rest. Morning had come far too early, but he’d dragged himself out of bed anyway.

The classes taught by Jacobs were interesting, and even though they’d only just started this week, Ed was already grateful to the man for his before and after class tutoring sessions. Ed was, by far, much more intelligent than any of the other students in the class, despite being far younger. But in terms of strategic ability and aptitude, Ed was most likely at the bottom of the list.

In a way, it was great to really be challenged, but in another way it was frustrating. Ed had so much to catch up on, and he had a feeling that he might never be as naturally talented at strategy and leading men as his classmates. It didn’t help that they all knew how he’d been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, and none of them were very thrilled about it.

Opening the door, Ed entered the building, waved lazily to the morning guards—who were ignoring him in favor of that morning’s paper—and started up to his office. He wondered idly if he’d be able to catch a nap later this morning. Lieutenant Hawkeye seemed to have a sixth sense about when Ed was slacking off, and it never failed that she made an appearance to get him going again. Ed smiled to himself. It was annoying, but at the same time he was grateful to have her there to help him and keep him on his toes.

As Ed neared his office, he noticed that none of his direct subordinates were around. It was odd... He usually met at least one of them in the morning. And then as he entered his office, he saw why. They were all sitting on the couches waiting for him. When he entered they all stood up and watched him.

“What...?” he asked, feeling a little uncomfortable.

“Have you read the paper this morning?” Breda asked.

“Uh... no,” Ed said, starting toward his desk. He knew that Roy had read the paper every day to keep himself informed, but Ed had only managed it once every few days thus far because he’d been so busy. There was a glance between them all, and then their attention was back to him.

“We took the liberty of brining you a copy,” Hawkeye said. “We would like to discuss it together once you’ve read it.”

“Uh huh...” Ed said warily. Yes, the way they were acting was very weird. Moving the rest of the way to his desk, Ed picked up the paper and started scanning over the front page, not exactly sure what they wanted him to read.

And then he saw it.

Ed’s eyes widened and his breath caught in his chest as he read the article quickly, then turned to another page for the rest of it. Little tingles were racing along his skin and his heart quickened as he read. Soon enough he came to the end and he looked up at them, feeling light headed and astonished.

“Pretty good news, eh?” Havoc said with a grin. They were all smiling now, though they seemed to be watching him carefully, as if unsure what he would do.

Ed looked back down at the paper, reading the short article again quickly, then tossed it on the desk and started for the door. Amazing. This was just amazing and unbelievable! He had to go see this for himself.

“Chief! Wait!” he heard Havoc call behind him, but he was already gone; running through the halls now, eager to be out of the building and on his way toward the hospital. Whatever tiredness he’d been feeling before completely gone.

Alive!

Roy was alive!
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