"What’s Bred in the Bone"
Arc One: Chapter 28
Balance of PowerPart Two WARNING: Post Series, Post Movie, **SPOILER HEAVY** and just a bit AUSeptember 4, 2006
"What the hell??
" Ducky leapt to his feet, gaping in stupefaction at his grandfather. "Your name -- Maes Elric -- no way
! That can't be! That's -- that's just--"
"It's a trick," Ed faltered. He felt as though the earth was shaking under his feet, and fought desperately for stable footing. "It's a lie. It's… it's not true."
Ducky stared at him. "Ed," he said. "Sit down. Seriously." When he got no answer, he hopped over the coffee table and stepped closer, hands out. "You have to sit or you're going to--"
" Ed cried, backing away. "You did this, didn't you? You saw the book, you read it -- you put him up to this, didn’t you?"
"What do you mean?"
"You told him about my family. You told him to play this trick on me."
"What the hell
are you talking about, Ed?" Ducky exclaimed. "This is as much of a surprise to me as it is to you."
"I don't believe you!" Ed yelled raggedly. "How could you do this to me??" He had backed himself against the wall by the bureau now, groping behind him for support, while Ducky followed, still reaching out for him. Tendrils of ivy from a hanging basket trailed over both their heads. Ed pushed both ivy and helping hands away, mindlessly.
"Don't be stupid!" Ducky yelled back irritably. "Why would I do something like that?"
"I don't know. You're working with Bond, maybe. Like Heist did. Or you can't stand that I beat you at your stupid computer games, so you decided to trump me with the mother of all twisted games."
"Working with Bond??
" Ducky shrieked. "You think I'm working with the guy who tried to kill Heist??
He pulled his right arm back, aiming a hard fist at Ed's head. But Ed blocked the move easily with his left forearm, swinging his automail arm to land a blow on the side of Ducky's head, knocking him halfway across the room. He yelped as a stab of pain throbbed into his shoulder, while the other man skidded and rolled, then pushed himself onto hands and knees, head hanging groggily.
"D-dammit, Ed…," he mumbled, spitting blood.
Ed gasped around the sudden constriction in his chest, coughing heavily before he suppressed the spasms by sheer force of will. "Just one thing you forgot, when you cooked up this trick, you bastard," he rasped, advancing upon Ducky, fists clenched. "They all died in those camps, and I know it. I know this is a lie."
"But you see," Gramps said calmly, appearing from nowhere to grip the automail arm and yank Ed around to face him, "we didn't all die. Alize -- Elysia -- the two of us had to make it seem that way, after we escaped. But we got out."
"You’re lying -- I have the book, with the records -- I know what it says--"
"Gott im Himmel!
Edward. I wrote
the book," said the man. "I invented my own death and Lize's, to be convincing. I know every word that's written there." And to Ed's growing horror, he began to quote. In German. "Sie wird gegangen. Ich sah ihr weg führend. Und für einen Moment, sie betrachtete mich. Dann drückte der deutsche Schweinsoldat ihr Vorwärts. Es gab die spielende Musik, aber ich könnte ruhig die Schüsse hören." "She is gone. I saw her being led away. And for one moment, she looked at me. Then the German pig soldier pushed her forward. There was music playing, but I could still hear the gunshots."
"Look at me, Ed," said Gramps, allowing his now undeniable German accent to emerge more strongly than before. "Just look at me."
"No. I'm not playing along with this." Ed couldn't help himself. He squeezed his eyes closed and turned his head away, backing up against the wall again, crossing his arms protectively over his chest as he tried to catch his breath. "I won't let you do this to me!" he cried. "I won't!"
"Typical," the older man retorted. "Always so stubborn. Very well, then, there's something else you should see."
He turned away, and Ed opened his eyes again, warily following his movements. Gramps stooped to the bottom drawer of the bureau, and took out a long, flat box, setting it carefully on top. He lifted the box lid accompanied by a rustling sound, then gently folded back the tissue inside.
He took hold of what was within, and raised his hands with a bit of a flourish. Something red, something soft, rose with his hands and then unfurled and spread itself in a supple crimson fall.
It was a plain, lightweight, long sleeved coat which, if Ed had put it on, would have come down to just past his knees. A spear of impossible recognition pinned him, frozen, to the wall and he shook his head once, in desperate denial. Pain thudded heavily in his chest. This couldn’t, couldn't
be what it looked like.
Gramps' eyes fixed themselves intently on the younger man's face as, his movements slow and deliberate, he turned the coat around to display the back.
A hood sagged between his hands, between the shoulders of the coat. And down the back, only partly obscured by the fall of the hood, was a symbol as familiar to Ed as his own name: a cross shape, with a serpent twined around it and a winged crown soaring above. Symbol of alchemy, on the back of a coat Ed had worn through all the years of his quest, and which Al had worn when jumping the Gate with him to this world. A coat that had been left behind with Noah, just a few months ago in Ed's personal chronology.
Trembling in fear, he lifted his face at last and gazed into those eyes -- his own brilliant gold eyes, bequeathed decades ago to a son he had never known he had -- and his knees gave out. He sank to the floor with a whimper, collapsing into a limp pile of shaking bones and metal. He felt it only dimly, as though at a great distance from his body, when the old man set aside the coat and knelt before him, pulling him into a strong, supportive embrace.
It could have been hours or even days that the two of them sat that way in silence. Ed might have continued for hours longer, his mind cocooning itself in shock, if not for Ducky.
The young man finally pushed himself up onto his haunches and peered in dazed disbelief at the two of them. He rubbed his sore head absently, his tongue probing a split lower lip. But suddenly his gaze sharpened. "Holy shit!
" he cried, hysteria flaring in his voice. "Ed! Dude! You’re my great grandfather!"
Whereupon he collapsed onto his back, gasping with frantic, screaming laughter that very quickly morphed into sobs as he threw his arms across his face.__________Central Oklahoma
"...Y'see, Alphonse," Llyn went on as he came to the end of another story, standing still and half-entranced, gazing with unseeing eyes into the ever-shifting leaves in the branches above his head, "these myths all tell of doors to the Other World, and often the great hunt that led to them. Sometimes the door may be found in a castle. Pryderi, with his mother the goddess Rhiannon, entered into such a castle and touched a golden bowl beside a fountain in the courtyard, and it froze them until the whole place vanished, taking them with it. Pryderi's own father, Pwyll, when riding on a hunt, met Arawn, lord of the Underworld, and exchanged places with him, spending a year ruling the other world."
"But it sounds," Al interjected quietly, "like those people were doing the hunting -- not being hunted themselves."
Llyn smiled, but remained as he was, gaze fixed on the mythical world. "Yes, but I tend to think that it didna' matter so much, who was hunting or hunted. It was the surge and strength
of the hunt that propelled them all. And the companionship of the animals." Now the young man glanced down at Al, who still sat cross-legged, leaning back against the tree. Raising a significant eyebrow, the doctor cocked his head toward the raven, who had barely moved a muscle since Llyn first appeared on the scene.
Al scowled at the bird. "He's not my companion. He's just... here."
Llyn went on, as though he hadn't spoken. "There are other doors through the worlds. Sometimes they are found on the highest mountains. And sometimes..." he leaned over and ran a hand along the tree bark above the boy's head, "they are found in trees."
"So you're saying I'm supposed to find some mountain -- or some tree -- or go on a hunt -- and that will somehow teach me how to use this flute? Llyn, you're not making any sense at all."
Again the other went to his knees, settling himself at Al's side. "No, I'm not saying any of that," he smiled. "Because what all of those stories truly say is that the seeker must find the Center of the world. The great Tree of Odin, Mount Meru of the Hindu myths, the Omphalos of Greece, the Spiral Castle of my own people -- the great Gate that sings in tune with the power of your own world's alchemists -- all stand at the Center. And all are found--" he placed his hand over Al's heart, his dark eyes boring intently into the boy's "--here."
Al felt the tears starting into his eyes, and tried to blink them away. "Then we'll never get home," he whispered, "because I can't find the Center."
"It's there," Llyn assured him. "At the place where you pull away part of your soul to send it somewhere else -- that's the Center, Alphonse. That's where the music flows from; it's why you can play this flute and y'r brother cannot. That's the bridge that spans the void. Remember, you told me that you once set a piece of your soul in a suit of armor, and spoke to your brother across the worlds." The young doctor squeezed his hands once again on Al's shoulders. "You've already done this thing once before, my friend. Find that place inside you again, when you play your flute, and see the music as a bird flying from your heart, across the bridge, to your loved ones on the other side. Reach for them with your soul, put your soul into the music. That will open the Gate at the Center of worlds."
"What you're talking about is some kind of magic, Llyn. But you're a doctor -- you don't believe in that sort of thing any more than Brother and I do. Why are you talking about magic castles and trees and--"
"You're missin' my point entirely, Alphonse," Llyn shook his head, hands tightening insistently on Al's shoulders until the boy had no choice but to gaze into his earnest dark eyes. "The myths don't speak of literal truth, but they tell an even deeper truth. They are talking about the power of your Gate, and the power inside your own soul, and how the two are connected. In your world, somehow that is science, even if the only language my world can find to describe it is the language of magical tales. But it doesn't matter what language is used -- it's your power they're talkin' about."
Al hefted the flute in one hand, frowning thoughtfully down at it. "My power...," he repeated slowly.
The young doctor gazed past his companion, eyes unfocused, looking at something that wasn’t there. He murmured, “The tales speak of faery people who come through such a Gate and draw mortals into the enchanted lands, away from their suffering. Our poets sing of them: ‘Come away oh human child, to the waters and the wild, with a faery hand in hand… For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand…”
For a moment longer, Al contemplated the instrument, rubbing his thumb absently along the side. He felt the hands on his shoulders echoing the movement, as his friend’s own thumbs lightly traced the collarbones under his shirt. As the words of the poem faded away, he knew. "Llyn," he whispered. "The way your parents... died. That's how you recognized Bond. That's why you're helping us. Isn't it?"
He wasn't prepared to be engulfed, but he found himself encircled by the older man's arms, pressed tightly to the other's chest. He could hear Llyn's heart racing, and feel his struggle to speak.
"Alphonse... my friend," the other choked, his breath stirring Al's hair. "I'd have wanted to help anyway. Truly. But... but that sort of intuition... that's what will show you the way, when the time comes. Trust yourself."
Llyn lifted his head and pulled back, cupping his hands around Al's face and smiling gently, painfully. Then the man stood and turned, walking quickly away through the woods, head bowed.
Al had caught a quick glimpse of his eyes before he'd turned away. Lifting the flute to his lips, thinking of his own mother and father, the boy began to play, the music swelling to fill the woods, sending all the compassion and empathy he possessed after his departing friend.__________
Ed sat hunched on the couch, cradling a fresh cup of hot tea in unsteady hands. Despite the thick, warm blanket wrapped around him, he couldn't seem to stop shivering. They had begun to lay the red coat on his shoulders but he had shrunk back as though it were an instrument of torture. It now lay draped across the box on the bureau, ready to be folded and put away again if necessary.
His companions sat to either side of him, Gramps watching carefully from the right, while attempting to answer the questions Ducky peppered from the left. The words darted back and forth past Ed, some sticking in his mind and others flashing away before he could really grasp them.
"So how did you and Grandma manage to escape?"
"Mr. Hughes had been put to work filing documents in the camp. He managed to fake some records so I could be released. I... didn't want to leave him. He was very ill, you see, and Mrs. Hughes had already died. But he convinced me when he reminded me that Elysia was still alive, living in the countryside with her grandparents. She... she would need me, he said, when he was gone. But I've told you most this before, Danny."
"I know, but -- it's like a whole different story now. And you never told me their names. But go on."
"I had to take the chance he gave me, for his sake and for hers. And I already loved her. So I left the camp and took odd jobs in the city, until I could save enough money to go to her."
"And your… your mom. She was already gone, by the time you got out?"
"Oh yes. It had been almost three years by then."
"She's the one who told you about your…," Ducky hesitated, "…about Ed?"
"She often spoke of him. I knew all about him and his brother, even before the bad times came." Gramps smiled. "She had a picture that I memorized. And there were other things..." He hesitated. "I would have known who Ed was today, even if he used a different name."
"But how did you get the idea you’d meet him some day?"
Again a hesitation. "Mother thought I might. Remember that she... could see things. And as I said, there were other hints. I was sure I would see him in the flesh, before my life was over."
"But Gramps, I still don't get how you recognized him. I mean, he should be ancient now. You didn't expect to meet a guy my age, after all these years."
The old man smiled again. "But I did," he said.
"It's hard to explain, Danny. There are so many details..." Gramps shrugged. "It doesn't matter, though, does it? I knew I would see him, and I was right. That's the important thing."
Ducky shook his head. "No wonder you don't freak out at some of the things I get into. You're already living your own Sci-Fi story."
Gramps straightened the blanket around Ed’s shoulders. "I watch your science fiction shows on TV sometimes. They've never seemed far-fetched to me. If Elysia and I could escape and survive, in all the ways we did before we came to America, many other things must be possible. Even a man coming here from another world. And coming to the 1920s one time, and the 21st century next time."
Ed moved abruptly, setting his tea on the table. "Stop," he whispered. "Please, just stop." He leaned forward, elbows on his knees, burying his head in his hands.
"Hey." Ducky patted him awkwardly on the shoulder. "You okay? It's been a big shock."
"Shock," Ed repeated. "That's an understatement."
"You… do believe him now, right? And you don't think we rigged up the story as a trick?"
A long silence. "Sorry I said that," Ed murmured. "I should never have hit you. I think I was angry because I knew it was true, and I didn't want it to be. Are you all right?"
"I'm fine. But I'm going to have a bitchin' bruise. If you give me trouble from now on, I can complain about child abuse…" Ducky's voice trailed away as Ed lifted stricken eyes to his swollen face. "Sorry, Ed. Sorry. I'm being stupid."
Ed pulled the blanket more tightly around him. He just couldn't stop shivering. He hunched down into his shoulders and at last forced himself to whisper the thing that had haunted him for weeks, from the moment he had learned of his son's existence and supposed fate. "You must hate me very much...," he choked the name out, "...M-Maes."
He couldn't look at the older man beside him. He didn't dare. He didn't remember ever being so afraid.
"Edward," Gramps answered softly. "You’re wrong. I don't hate you. And you can call me Mateo, if it makes this easier."
"How," Ed rasped, and cleared his throat. "How can it possibly make this easier, to call you by another name? That won't change anything. Nothing will ever change the fact that I left Noah behind, and you grew up without a father, and when you really needed me I wasn't there -- I never came for you -- I never rescued you--"
"Millions of people weren't rescued--" Gramps tried to interject.
"You ended up in that horrible place -- you and your mother -- and they died -- Noah, Hughes, Gracia -- all of you suffered, and I never came back to stop it!"
"I could have saved you -- kept you from being taken away -- and I wasn't there -- they died and you ended up in the camp -- and it was my fault -- my fault--"
"You could never have--"
"I should have stayed -- I should have found a way back -- I should never have left!" Ed's fingers dug into his hair as the sobs surged up and overtook him, heaving through his body while tears poured down his face in torrents.
He heard the elderly man sigh, and comment over his head to his grandson, "Does he ever listen, Danny?"
"Not when it comes to family," the younger man answered somberly. Out of the corner of his eye, Ed saw Ducky wipe the back of a hand across his own eyes, sniffling.
"What kind of father was I?" Ed wept. "What kind of lover? Noah -- I'm sorry. I'm so sorry! I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry
Gramps wrenched the blanket back, grabbed his shoulders, and gave him a firm shake. "Stop this," he commanded. "It is time to listen to me now, Edward Elric!"
Ed gasped, his head jolting up. He gulped a couple of hiccupping sobs and stared at the man, eyes wide, the desolation still shuddering through him. The rush of tears did not lessen, and when his lips pulled back in a fresh grimace of grief, he felt the swamp of self-recrimination beginning to engulf him again.
But he fought against it, raising his hands, slowly, and touching the arms that still held him. His metal hand closed around Gramps' -- Maes' -- his son's -- left forearm, while the flesh hand ran up and down the older man's right arm, gingerly, from shoulder to wrist. "I -- I don't know what to do," he whispered forlornly. "Or what to say."
"Will you listen to me for a minute?"
"I'll try." He took a deep breath, his fingers moving unconsciously on the other man's arm, as though seeking to absorb its texture and warmth. He stared into the other face, for the first time taking it in with complete understanding: the coloring inherited from Noah, the cheekbones and jawline -- and eyes -- that could only have come from himself. This was truly his son. Maes Elric.
Maes kept his hands firmly on Ed's shoulders. "It is true," he murmured, "I wanted to hate you at first, while mother waited for you and you never returned. I thought you had abandoned us."
"Of course you did." Ed bowed his head. "You couldn’t think anything else."
"I could. You must believe that." The hands squeezed slightly, forcing the younger man's head up again. "Mother told me what an honorable person you were. She said you tried hard to do what was right, which was why you left on your mission with Alphonse. If you couldn't return, she said, it was because you were prevented, not because you didn't want to come back."
"But you didn't believe that." Ed’s lips twisted bitterly. "I read the letters in that book, remember? You kept begging me to come back, because it was getting more dangerous and you needed my help. And I never came back. I -- I never--"
"Listen, Ed. Listen. Think of the times. All of us were desperate, remember? Our world was going insane, very quickly, and all of us were begging someone or something for help. God, family, the rest of the world -- we cried to all of them for help, whoever we thought might save us. I wasn't the only one."
"I suppose you’re right, but…"
"Nobody came for any of them," Gramps sighed. "There were young men whose fathers remained with them, and the fathers died beside the sons. That could well have been your fate, if you'd been there."
"None of those fathers," Ed glowered, "were the Fullmetal Alchemist. I could have done something, even if they couldn't."
Ducky leaned around to peer at him. "There you go, Terminator-boy. That's more like it. Got the old gleam back in your eye."
Ed jerked toward him with a retort on his tongue, but it vanished at the sight of the other's drawn, blotched face and swollen lip. The undamaged side of Ducky's mouth tilted into a sad little smile, his eyes red-rimmed and weary. This is Ducky's family, too,
Ed thought with a deep pang. The other Hughes and Gracia, Elysia... Noah. They’d just been names to him before, and now they were his own family. His and Ed’s.
Gramps -- Maes -- returned to the point. "But even you couldn’t have 'done something' against the entire army of the Reich. The odds were so great, and help was coming from nowhere. You would probably have succeeded only in being killed."
"You can't know that," Ed protested. "After all, you managed to defeat them, in the end. You escaped the country, you and Elysia. You had the courage and the resourcefulness you needed, when the chance came."
The old man regarded him for a moment. "That's true," he conceded. The corners of his eyes crinkled. "I think I inherited them from my father."
"Gramps," Ducky blurted, plopping back against the couch cushions and clutching his hair with both hands. (In a gesture, Ed realized, eerily similar to his own, a minute ago.) "You have weirded me out beyond my weirdest nightmares this time. How you're gonna follow this one, I don't know."
"Relax, D," the old man grinned, "this is the one I've been working up to my whole life. Everything's downhill from here."
Ed peered from one to the other. The comforting hands remained on his shoulders, and he hadn't yet let go of the other man's arms. He squeezed a little, thoughtfully, with his left hand. "This is bizarre," he murmured. "I'm not sure how you can joke about this."
"Sometimes in your life you have to laugh, Ed," Maes reminded him, "unless you'd rather cry."
"I guess you're right. That's how Al and I have gotten by, all these years. We could always laugh and keep each other's spirits up." Ed's gaze sharpened and one corner of his mouth quirked up. "Al's not going to believe this. He's going to want to see you. I can't wait to see the look on his face when he does."
"But can he?" the man asked. "You seemed to be in a hurry when you got here."
"He's right, Ed," Ducky said. "Remember how you didn't even want to waste time on this visit?"
"Oh sure, just rub it in, why don’t you?"
"I don't mean it like that. I just mean we don't have much time. I don't know. Do you think we'll be able to turn around, get Al, come back, and leave again in time? And avoid the Feds?"
The two men's eyes met. Ed swallowed and bowed his head in resignation. "Damn," he whispered.
"It doesn't matter," Maes said. "The important thing is that you and I have seen each other. I'll meet your brother some other time. You can bring him then."
"That's the thing," Ed moaned around the tears rising again in his throat. "I can't. We're leaving very soon and... I don't think there's any way we can come back. Even I can't stay much longer. Not even now... when I've just found you... dammit..."
"Then we need to make the most of the time we've got, don't we?" Maes's hands moved, gently massaging Ed's good shoulder and the point on the other side of his neck where the mechanical arm joined his body. Instead of hurting as Ed expected, the sensation was soothing, and he felt the tension in his back and chest easing. "You need to learn not to be so tense about everything," the old man murmured.
Despite himself, Ed had to laugh a little. "You don’t sound like any son of mine."
"I've calmed down over the years. You didn't see me when I was younger."
Ed swallowed hard. "No I didn't, did I?" he agreed, voice unsteady.
"I didn't mean it that way--"
"I know. But it's true -- I missed everything. So tell me," Ed blurted. "Tell me what you were like. Tell me about your life."
"There isn't much time for a long story, you know."
Ed's hands tightened on the arms of this man who was, unbelievably and miraculously, his son. "Then talk fast," he said. __________
Al tapped the flute thoughtfully against his chin as he leaned back against the tree, staring down the raven with narrowed eyes. He was pretty sure the bird would win any contest, but the stare-down gave him a focus point while he contemplated what to do next.
“Got any ideas?” he challenged, smiling to himself as he remembered how Singer used to talk to his avian companion. As expected, though, the raven said nothing, merely moving its feet slowly and deliberately as it stepped an inch to the left.
Al examined the musical instrument for about the hundredth time, again noting the carved motif: butterfly and wolf. He’d understood the “butterfly” nickname for his brother right away: Ed really was a vivid spirit flitting from place to place, landing only briefly before he was off again. The idea of the wolf was less clear, but Al suspected he’d come to understand it too, eventually. He did know that wolves had very strong family ties.
“All right,” he said aloud, once again eyeing the raven. “I’m going to try something. If you make fun of me, I’ll singe your feathers.”
He put the flute to his mouth and closed his eyes. He let himself relax, thinking of his brother, but refusing to allow himself to worry this time. Instead, he pictured Ed at his brightest moments: the way his eyes lit up when he made a new alchemical discovery; how he glanced across a room at Al and grinned at a shared joke; how he shone with vitality when confronting a foe. What a blazing bright spirit he was!Butterfly
, Al thought, smiling. And sensed immediately when the change happened.
He opened his eyes, still playing, and watched the glowing rift appear in the air in front of him. It was maybe a foot high, shining with white light. And as it spread open a few inches, a cascade of brilliant orange butterflies flew out of it, hundreds of them, flooding into the little clearing where he sat. They swirled around the space in a riotous whirlwind of movement, alighting on the branches, on his hair, even on the end of the flute, then leaping off again to join their companions. Each one had a wingspan of about four inches, wings outlined in black, the orange flaring even more brightly in contrast.
The butterflies swooped and swirled around the clearing, images of perfect grace, and Al’s heart swelled with joy at the sheer beauty. Each was like a tiny, living flame darting from branch to branch.Flame
. His mind wandered back to the party and the bonfire, to the first time he had used the flute and seen something like this. He hadn’t realized it then, but now he knew exactly who he had touched back then. Flame…
The whispers grew gradually, at first easily mistaken for the whoosh and flutter of butterfly wings. But as the brilliant creatures continued to dance around the clearing, the sound grew slowly stronger, and at last he began to hear words.
“So you really think that should be the next stop?” The voice seemed to come from a great distance, but Al could have sworn it sounded like Lieutenant Havoc. He could almost hear the man smiling in that easygoing way of his.
With the next voice, there was no doubt at all. Roy Mustang replied almost immediately: “Yes. All the indications are there, and I’m absolutely sure. My friends – we are going to Rush Valley.” Then, as the voice began to fade away, an abrupt question: “Listen. Do you hear music?”
Al gasped, lowering the flute. And he watched as all the butterflies suddenly rushed toward the glowing rift, flying through in a sweeping wave, back to the other place from which he’d drawn them. In mere seconds they were gone, and the glowing line in the air closed once more, vanishing as though it had never been.
The raven emitted one sharp caw, and fluttered from its perch to land on the ground in front of the boy. It fixed a dark eye on his face, and then just stood there, as though waiting for something.
“So he’s alive,” Al said breathlessly. “That’s good. And he’s right, you know. That’s where we’re going too. Rush Valley. That’s where we’re going.”__________
They covered as much ground as possible in the short time they had. The story flew disjointedly from event to event, leaping back and forth between time periods. Ducky curled up at the end of the couch, listening in silence at first, his legs drawn up with his arms around his knees.
As Maes described a few things about life growing up with his mother, Ed groaned. "She must have had a very hard time of it. Being alone and unmarried, with a child."
"Not as hard as you would think," the other answered. "We had help from the Hughes family, over the years. Though we wandered around sometimes, as mother followed her trade."
"And what trade was that?" Ed asked, though he feared he already had a good idea.
"She sang, danced...," a pause, "...told fortunes."
"So she did keep doing it," Ed sighed. "I was never crazy about that fortune telling business. It made people uncomfortable, and that leads to trouble. I always hoped she'd do something more practical, like working in a shop."
"Mrs. Hughes let her work in the flower shop sometimes, but it didn't make enough money for two families, when Mr. Hughes started working there too."
"Why did he do that? He made good money as a policeman."
"He became uncomfortable with the way the police force was changing for the worse. He quit and helped Mrs. Hughes in the shop. So mother and I often left for a few months, to make our living in other ways." The older man opened his mouth as though to add more, but hesitated, brows drawn together as he frowned thoughtfully.
"What? Maes, tell me."
"You were right, about people being uncomfortable. It was mother's... work... that brought us to the Nazis' attention."
"I knew it. I knew
it would keep getting her into trouble. Why didn't she listen to me? Why did she keep doing it?"
"Edward," Maes reminded him gently, "she had a child to support."
Ed bowed his head. "Of course she did. And I had disappeared. So... what happened then, when things started getting worse?"
But that was a time period his son preferred to say very little about. "You read my letters," he said. "You already know some things about those days. I don't dwell on them now, and you must not either."
He was equally reticent about how he and Elysia escaped the country and made their way eventually to America. "Many people helped along the way," he mused slowly, eyes focused on distant memories. "There were many heroes that no one ever heard of in that war. We took our new names from some of them, before we left for America."
When the old man began to narrate stories of life in his new country, Ducky finally entered in, as his own parents and other relatives came into the picture. Grandfather and grandson flitted quickly from vignette to vignette about the sons, daughters, and eventually the grandchildren; about birthdays, weddings, and family reunions; and about the spread of the family across several American states.
Ed fell gradually out of the conversation, listening wide-eyed to the two of them -- his son and great-grandson, his own flesh and blood -- recounting in a few words the lives of a family he himself had founded. Demonstrating with laughter, rueful sighs, and the occasional rolling of the eyes what a vibrant, complex, sometimes raucous family it had become over the years.
Whether they had a conformist streak, as Ducky’s mother did, channeled compassionate impulses into pioneering veterinary work, as Uncle James did, or carried the tinge of a black sheep, like Ducky himself, all of them attacked life with boundless energy and, above all, stubborn determination.
They were Elrics. Every last one of them, whether they knew it or not. And all of them were his, even if he'd never have the chance to meet them.
Ducky paused in the middle of a story about a skating mishap with his cousin Tiffany, and eyed his grandfather thoughtfully. "You know," he mused, "maybe they're not such a bad bunch after all. When you look at them from outside like this."
"Maybe they're not," Gramps agreed, adding with a grin, "but I'm still not sure your father was good enough for a daughter of mine."
"Oh, Gramps!" the younger man groaned, tossing a cushion at him, which the man easily dodged. This seemed to be an old, good-natured argument. "Well, Ed," Ducky laughed, "that's the whole story in a nutshell. What do you think?"
"I -- I don't know--" Ed stammered. "It's all... so..."
"It's pretty overwhelming all at once, isn't it?" Maes murmured.
"That sums it up, all right," Ed nodded. "But in a good way."
"Yeah, well, just try living with these people for a while," Ducky snorted.
"I'd... love that, actually. I've never... really..."
Gramps laid a hand on Ed's hair and gently smoothed it out of his eyes. "Never really had a family," he finished the thought. "So young, to lose your parents as you did."
"Only a little younger than you were."
"I'm glad you had your brother, though. He is well?"
"He is now. We both are, now that we've found each other again. We always do better when we’re together."
"That's what Mother always told me," Gramps smiled.
Ducky leaned forward. "Which reminds me, Ed... I hate to say this, but it's probably time to get back to him. We're going to have to go."
"No -- not yet," Ed protested. "It's too soon, we've hardly had any time--"
"It's been hours. We're gonna get yelled at already, for being late." The other man reminded him soberly, "We're being looked for, remember? We've got to do this soon."
"Something big going down, Danny?" asked his grandfather.
Ducky hesitated. "Pretty big, yeah," he finally admitted. "In fact, we're going away for a while, with Reilly and some others. That's why I wanted to see you, actually. I'm not sure when I'll be back."
"And I..." Ed swallowed and his jaw tightened. "I don't think I'll be able to come back at all."
"You're going home to the other world, aren't you?" said Maes, and smiled wryly as Ed's head jerked up in surprise. "You forget," he added, "Mother told me about it. I always wondered if that was what happened to you -- that you were taken back there, and that was why you couldn't return to us."
"It's a lot more complicated," Ed nodded, "but it was something like that."
"And now you have a chance to go back home. So of course you must leave in time." The old man slapped his hands on his knees and stood, walking to the bureau and briskly beginning to fold the red coat. "I'll send this with you," he said. "It belongs to you and your brother, and you'll want it back--"
Ed followed him to the bureau, stopping him with the touch of a hand on his arm. "No," he shook his head. "After all this time, it belongs to you. Think of it as an inheritance or something."
"Ed," Maes breathed. "Are you sure?"
"Do you want it?"
"Then keep it. Think of it as the only thing I was ever able to give you."
"Not the only--" Yet again the old man cut himself short. He allowed himself a private smile as his thumbs rubbed lovingly on the fabric of the coat. "Never mind. Thank you. It's been my treasure for so long, it would be hard to lose it now." He finished folding the garment and set it back in its protective tissue, before closing the box and replacing it in the bureau.
Things moved so quickly, then, that Ed's head reeled. He insisted on helping take the tea things into the kitchen, mostly to prolong the final moments, but in no time the three men stood back on the porch, preparing to say good-bye. The sun, which had been almost overhead when they arrived, had now sunk far into the west, flooding the porch and the room behind the window with mellow afternoon light.
Grandfather and grandson faced each other, smiling. "Well, Gramps," Ducky said, "visits with you are always fun, but this one wins the prize so far."
"I'll see what I can dream up for next time," the old man promised, eyes twinkling. He cast a glance at Ed, remarking, "He's a good boy, you know."
Ed's lips quirked up. "You're not really supposed to tell him stuff like that. It'll go to his head. Young people these days, always so cocky..." But his half-hearted attempt at humor failed him, and his voice trailed away.
Those eyes again. So incongruous in that face, with that weathered olive skin and the grey hair that had once been as black as his mother's. That coloring was most definitely hers, and had probably determined the colour of Ducky's hair too. But those eyes... wide and full of light whether the man stood in shadow or sun... those were Ed's. And their warm, compassionate gaze was fixed on him now as he began to flounder.
"I... I just don't know what to say," Ed whispered, hands open helplessly at his sides.
Maes stepped forward and gripped his shoulders one last time, leaning in to plant a soft kiss on the younger man’s forehead. "Meeting you has been the crown of my life," he murmured. "Worth all the struggle it has taken to come to this moment. Thank you. Now go in peace and strength... my dear young father."
Ed's face crumpled and he flung himself into the other man's arms. "I don't want to go!" he wept. "I can't leave you. Not now."
The man held him, stroking his golden hair. "You can do this," he soothed. "I know how strong you are, and Alphonse needs you. Many people need you. Go, Ed. Do what the people you love need you to do. Go."
Ed gritted his teeth, nodding, and pulled himself away. Wiping his eyes with the back of his left hand, he gazed one more time into the bright, smiling eyes of his son, and managed to return the smile. "Thank you," he said. "If it means anything, I -- I'm proud of what you've done with your life. I -- I--" He took a shuddering breath and was almost overwhelmed again. "Goodbye, Maes," he choked, then turned on his heel and literally fled to the van.~`~`~`~
They watched him run down the walk and fling himself through the gate. Oh no, the gate!
Ducky thought forlornly. I never oiled it like I was going to. And now it's too late.
Gramps caught his attention again, drawing him into a tight embrace. "Be careful, Danny," he said. "Whatever you're involved in -- be careful."
"Oh, always, Gramps," Ducky grinned crookedly. "You know I always muddle through somehow, no matter what happens. I guess I've got the genes for it, don't I?"
The older man laughed softly, releasing him. "I know you do." His eyes flickered past his grandson toward the lone figure slumped with drooping head against the side of the van. "He's the one who really needs help, even if he won't admit it. He's taken care of everyone else for so long, he doesn't accept help for himself. So I want you to take care of him now. Will you do that for me, Daniel?"
Ducky's grin faded, and he regarded his grandfather solemnly. "I've been trying," he answered. "He doesn't always like it."
"I'm sure. But you'll find a way. You're an Elric, after all. And... he really does need you."
"I'll do the best I can, Gramps. I promise." Ducky followed his grandfather's gaze toward the van and smiled ruefully. "I guess we'd better go. I'll fill you in on everything when I get back. Just make sure you're here waiting." He gave the elderly man a final long, fervent hug, then pulled away and hopped down the porch steps. He winced at the squeak of the gate as he pulled it shut behind him.
Ed didn't even look up as he approached and unlocked the door on the passenger side. The other man just climbed into the van without a word, and huddled down into the passenger seat, staring blankly at his hands clenched in his lap. In just a moment, Ducky was in his own seat, and had the motor running. Wordlessly he leaned past Ed, and waved again to his grandfather. He waited briefly in case his companion wanted to wave too, but Ed sat with bowed head, arms now hugged tightly across his chest as he fought to stifle his weeping.
Time to go. Ducky changed gears and slowly eased the van away from the curb, heading down the street.
He didn't expect conversation, but he heard Ed stir beside him, and whisper, "So once again... I abandon him."
"Oh, Ed, no--" Ducky began.
"Don't," Ed cut him off. "Not right now. Please." Damn tears
, Ducky thought. He couldn't let them obscure his vision. Blinking furiously, he slowed as he approached the intersection at the end of the block, and turned onto the busier street that would lead them back to the highway. After a moment, though, he ventured another word. "I just want you to know. If I had any clue about this, I'd have gotten you here a long time ago, no matter what anyone else wanted. So you'd have more time."
"I know you would," Ed answered, his words slightly muffled, face hidden by the fall of his hair. "You... you understand. About family."I want you to take care of him now. Will you do that for me, Daniel?
Ducky gulped down a fresh threat of tears and took a couple of deep breaths, still blinking. "I think I understand better now," he said quietly.~`~`~`~
The old man stood on the porch he had built, many years ago now, to showcase the flowers his wife had loved so much. Her presence had been very much with him today, from the moment he opened the door and looked upon the face of his father. She was with him still, in a way she hadn't been for almost three years. The two of them had always known this day would come. How she would have loved to have been here when it did.
Utterly still, he watched the van progress down the street until it finally turned the corner and disappeared, taking his father and his grandson away. He gazed at the empty road for a very long time, eyes distant, remembering so many things that only he and his wife had ever shared, as they had waited for this moment. At last he smiled fondly, the corners of his eyes crinkling.
"It's done," Maes said softly. "I've seen him at last, my Elysia, and sent him on his way like an arrow. We're going to be all right now."~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~
Congratulations to militsa
for giving us the first correct guess in the plot twist contest. She will get her choice of art or story, and she gets to give us the prompts.
Also congrats go to: zzcat13
for correct guesses. Banners will go to you three.
And for the most bizarre series of guesses ever seen, the prize goes to: mfelizandy
What that prize is, we have no idea, but we're fairly certain it'll have something to do with Darth Vader, Roy thinking he's a unicorn, or something else that might've been the result of bad mushrooms on pizza. XD
To see the (now) unscreened guesses, just head on over here.