The Path Not Taken

A FMA AU Fanfic

By Jaelle




Disclaimer: Not mine.

Concept: What if Ed and Al hadn't attempted human transmutation?

Pairings: Al/Winry, implied Roy/Ed.

Rating: PG-15 (for violence and language).



"But what will we exchange for her soul?"

Edward turned to give Al his pre-prepared answer - a drop of blood from each brother - when he suddenly paused and thought about it. Would it really be enough? Would the strength of their hearts be enough to return their mother to them?

A look of indecision flickered over his face.

Alphonse, looking to his brother for guidance as always, spotted the look and felt it fan his own worries into a full blaze. He reached out and caught Ed's hands, silently asking for reassurance.

"Nii-san..."

Looking into his brother's worried eyes, Ed felt himself hesitate again. What if it all went wrong? There could be terrible repercussions. It WAS forbidden after all. What if they got caught? What if mother came back wrong? What if something happened to Al? He reached out and patted his younger brother on the head, need and confidence warring with a growing sense of fear inside. As it grew higher, he pulled his brother into a hug.

Safe in his brother's arms, Al shook slightly. "Nii-san. Let's not do this tonight. We've been working on this for a while. We're tired. Let's think about it some more, just in case we've made a mistake somewhere."

Ed felt himself waver. If I stop now, I will never have the courage to do this again.

"Nii-san! Please?"

He felt his brother trembling and let out a long breath. Kaa-san. I'm so sorry.

He released his brother and stepped back, trying not to sniffle. "... okay. We'll recheck our calculations in the morning, before we do anything else."

Al nodded, his eyes watering with a mixture of sorrow and relief. Ed searched for a topic to cheer him up with. "I know, why don't we go and visit Winry and Granny Pinako? We haven't seen them for a year! I bet if we run we could get there in time for dinner."

The smile spreading across his brother's face helped wipe away the terrible sense of loss in his heart. Leaving their work behind them, the two brothers's grabbed their raincoats and headed out the side door, extinguishing the candles as they left. A few minutes later, there was a loud knocking on the front door of the empty house. But as noone answered, it eventually stopped and went away

The next day, Ed cleaned up the array and threw out all their materials. Neither boy ever spoke of the incident again.

**

Years went by, and Al and Winry began to spend more and more time together. Pinako watched them with one benevolent eye, while the other one kept a sharp watch on Ed, who had become more and more prone to mood swings and depression as he got older.

From the age of 15 onwards, Ed began disappearing for extended trips on a regular basis. At first hurt by this abandonment, Al came to accept that his brother needed something that he could not find at home. So he waited patiently with Winry and Pinako, all three of them knowing that as long as he had a home to come back to, Edward would always return.

Rumours began to come to the village. Rumours of war and rebellion, of State Alchemists deployed on the front lines of battle again. And darker rumours too, of strange creatures abroad in the land, mixes of humans and animals, monstrous things. The people of Liezenbul shivered and thanked the Gods for keeping them safe from these horrors, and life continued as normal. Al however, quietly intensified his study of Alchemy, soon becoming a leading figure in the community despite his young age. His powers grew quickly, much faster than normal. He was almost, some said, as powerful as the mysterious Cloaked Alchemist, who wandered the land, a hero to the common folk and friend to the desperate everywhere. A nameless man who was reputed to wield the legendary philosopher's stone itself and have the power to bring the dead back to life. Al only ever smiled sadly when people told him this.

And then one day, war came to Liezenbul.

**

General Roy Mustang scowled at the piece of paper in front of him and attempted to decipher the handwriting on the report. Finding only more bad news, he leaned back in his chair and stared out the window.

It had been a hard few years. All of his efforts to take back the peace had been thwarted, time and time again, and in the end he had been forced to use his Alchemists' powers to kill once more. Others who had hesitated had perished, and he stopped to spare a thought for his old comrade Armstrong, killed while battling the homunculus Envy.

Homunculi, his fingers clenched as the word spat through his mind. Monsters. Even the crazed Ishvar assassin Scar had fallen to their power. And now the military was broken and scattered, and the largest and most organised section of it was forced into hiding out in the middle of nowhere as they licked their wounds and attempted to regain their sense of balance.

Roy had managed to keep his command together this far more by luck than anything else, and he was desperately afraid that it was about to give out. It was luck that he'd managed to escape the chimeras sent by the Life Alchemist to kill him; luck that his commanders had stayed loyal to him, trusting in his abilities to see them through; luck that they had found somewhere safe to stay for a while as they tended their wounded; and it was nothing short of a bloody miracle that in this haven of safety they had found an Alchemist of the power and quality of Alphonse Elric. Even now he could see the young man raising shelters and defenses outside, and marveled at the strength he displayed. So much power in one so young. Who could have believed that the son of a coward and deserter would have so much potential? If only Roy could have met him sooner. Although it was perhaps better for Alphonse that he hadn't. Al was a sweet, innocent soul, and life on the frontlines would have destroyed him within a week.

Roy sighed. He genuinely liked the boy, and hated using him like this, but his powers were too impressive to just leave alone. He was already trying to think of ways to convince Al to join up with his command when they left, but when lined up against the boys fiancee and life here, he didn't have much to offer.

Of course, this was always assuming they all survived the next attack. He knew that at least one of the homunculi were on their way to wipe out his command, along with an army of God-only-knew-what. He sighed again and headed down to the kitchen of the house he had commandeered as his HQ. Perhaps some coffee would help provide him with ideas. Hell, he'd accept a message in the tea leaves at this point.

Reaching the hallway he stopped, and turned in to the parlour instead, heading for the shelf over the fireplace. This was where the family photographs were, and he once again found himself drawn to them. Al and Winry, their Granny Pinako, Al's mother and the deserter Hoenheim. And a couple of group photos, including one which always made him wonder: an old photo of two small boys laughing together, one of them with golden eyes.

Neither he nor Hughes had been able to find out much about the mysterious and absent "Edward", which was in itself curious. The people in the village tended to look blank when asked about him, and Al, Winry and Pinako were resolutely close-mouthed on the subject. It had taken him two weeks to confirm that Al and Ed were even related, until someone had casually mentioned "the Elric brothers". Judging by their size in the photos of them as teenagers, he assumed that Edward was the younger brother, and apparently a bit of a wanderer. Occasionally he overheard Winry and Al talking about him, and wishing that he would come home. If Ed had even half the power and talent of his older brother, then Roy wished he would come home too. They needed all the help they could get.

“Still curious?” An enquiring voice asked. “Or could it be love? You’ve been staring at that photo for weeks now.”

“Curiosity only,” Roy said, grinning despite himself at seeing his oldest friend. “Anything new?”

Hughes shrugged and came into the room. “Al-kun has finished the first row of defences. I sent him to get some rest before he starts the next lot. He’s an amazing kid.”

“Yes,” Roy’s eyes darkened. “I just hope we can keep him alive long enough for him to become a truly amazing adult.”

"There's always hope," Hughes said, shrugging. “Maybe you’ll beat those bastard Homunculi next time.”

Roy rolled his eyes. "Oh, of course, I shall take them on single-handedly and defeat them easily. Or perhaps the Cloaked Alchemist will show up and save us all!"

Hughes laughed. “I keep telling you, he really exists.”

Roy snorted skeptically. “Anything else to report?”

All the amusement disappeared from Hughes’ face. Roy closed his eyes. “How long do we have?”

“Two days. Three at the most.”

“Well,” Roy said lightly, “In that case, I’d better have my coffee and a shower now. I probably won’t get another chance after this.”

Hughes didn’t answer. He didn’t have to.

**

Three Days Later:

Roy coughed and spat out the blood in his mouth. What a fucking mess. I think this might actually be the end.

The chimera army had attacked at dawn. The first wave had been easy targets, thanks to the defenses Alphonse had frantically constructed, and the second wave had been picked off gradually too. The third wave swarmed the defences, and ever since then it had been a case of desperation as soldiers and civilians fought monsters together. He’d lost track of the combat hours ago, and now all he could do was try to rally his forces as best he could...

“Well, if it isn’t the Flame Alchemist. Long time no see.”

Lust. Oh God.

The beautiful homunculus smiled at him. “You always surprise us,” she said lightly. “By all rights, you should have been dead four times over by now.”

“What can I say?” Roy said lightly. “I’m not very good at taking hints.”

“Perhaps you need them to be less subtle then,” Lust said. “I shall try to be more blunt.”

Roy dodged her first attack, but her elongated claws caught him in the side as she swiped at him again, and he couldn’t get his balance in time to evade the third attack...

"Mustang-taisho! Get down!" Al loomed out of the street and dragged him down out of the way. "I'll hold her off!"

"No!" Roy tried to prevent the boy rushing in, but it was too late. Twenty seconds later, Alphonse Elric was lying on the ground, blood flowing from a terrible wound to his head, and Lust was cooing over his body.

"Such a pretty boy," she murmured. "And so strong. A shame he wasn't strong enough."

Roy watched helplessly as her blade-like fingers raised again...

"Get away from him!"

Surprised by the hoarse cry, Roy and Lust turned to see a small cloaked figure approaching them at a run. It halted, panting, and the voice snarled again, deeper this time.

"I said, get away from him."

Lust smiled at the newcomer. "And who are you to order me so?"

"I am Edward Elric!" The man declared, sweeping the cloak off his head, revealing long blonde hair and golden eyes that burned. "And I'm telling you for the last time... Get. Away. From. My. Brother."

So this was the mysterious Edward Elric, come home at last, Roy thought. Too late, far too late.

"Brother?" Lust paused, "Oh how cute, trying to protect him." She flexed her hands, "But if your big brother couldn't defeat me... what makes you think YOU can?!" She flung herself at him and Roy could only watch as Edward made no attempt to escape. The figures met with a sickly-sounding thud, and blood splattered across the ground.

Up and down the street, the battle ground to a halt as everyone stopped and stared at the hand that had been thrust through Lust's abdomen, crackling with Alchemic power. Ed held her claws away from him with the other hand, and snarled up at her confused face.

"Just for your information," he said slowly, panting with effort, "I am the OLDER brother! And you, and all your friends, can GO TO HELL!"

Roy stared at the power surging out from the other man. He's not even using a transmutation array!

Lust screamed as her body literally dissolved, sparking briefly when the circle on her chest fragmented apart. Shaking her remains off his arm, which was glowing strangely, Edward clapped his hands together in front of him, and then slammed them onto the ground. Power sparked again, and Roy closed his eyes as he felt the world come apart. Around him the earth groaned and moved, crevices gaping wide and then slamming shut upon those creatures which had fallen into them. Fierce jagged points rose into the sky, impaling all beneath them, and formerly solid buildings became fragmented projectile weapons. When the shuddering had stopped, Roy opened his eyes again, and waited for sounds to fill the silence.

Cheering?

And then Hughes was helping him up, crying and laughing at the same time, and Hawkeye and Havoc were yelling like loons and twirling around in celebration and the enemy were fleeing... they were fleeing... I don't believe it... we WON!

And Edward Elric was lying on the ground, blood pouring from the shoulder and leg sockets where his left arm and right leg had been, and Winry was running from him to Al and back again, screaming, and then Roy was shoving Hughes aside, and trying to staunch the wounds with his hands, snapping orders furiously as he grabbed on to the slight figure and held him close.

Don't die. Don't you dare die. This was only one battle, the war isn't over yet, and I NEED you, Edward Elric. I finally found some hope and I am NOT going to lose it! So don't you dare die. Live. LIVE!

**

Six Months Later:

Roy signed off on the last piece of paper and smiled at Hawkeye as she snatched it out of his grasp with a scowl.

"Thank you General," she said, efficiently tucking it into a folder. "And Edward Elric is here to see you."

"Send him in," Roy said, stretching slightly after a marathon session of paperwork. He rotated his shoulders and tried to relax, plastering a smile on his face as Ed walked into his office. "Good afternoon Edward-kun."

"General," Ed responded, throwing himself onto one of the couches. "Hawkeye finally tied you down and made you finish your homework, huh?"

Roy twitched slightly, "Running a large military operation is not as simple as you might think Edward-kun. One must coordinate events and people and support. You cannot simply have some lone operative wandering around randomly doing good deeds. Without proper follow-up, all their efforts are in vain."

This time Ed was the one to twitch, and Roy smiled as he mentally marked up the point as one in his favour. The two men had slowly formed a tentative friendship over the past few months, born of camaraderie in battle, shared dreams for a future of peace, and a rather snarky sense of humour which caused them to compete with each other on gibes and insults. Roy was still well in the lead, but Ed was catching up quickly.

It had been a surprise to Roy to find out that Edward was the legendary Cloaked Alchemist of folklore and fairy tale. Thinking back over it, he really shouldn't have been so astonished. Certainly noone else had been.

"Who else did you think it could be?" Hughes had asked, while watching Winry change Ed's bandages. "You saw him when he showed up, and what he can do."

"To be honest, I always thought he was a myth," Roy had admitted. "A children's story, something for people to cheer themselves up with, and give them enough courage to get through the night. Didn't you?"

"Oh, I knew he was real," Hughes had said. "There was too much corroborating data. And when they told me it was Ed-kun that explained a lot. But I have to admit that I was kind of expecting someone taller."

The sudden explosive temper tantrum this comment triggered had shocked both men as Ed, previously hovering on the edge of life and death, snapped upright despite the vast quantities of sedatives he'd had pumped into him, merely in order to curse them out about his height. This was followed by Al coming out of his three-day coma to rush in and try to calm down his older brother, and Winry and Pinako coming in to yell at both of them. In retrospect, it had been rather funny.

After both brothers had been stabilised, they had agreed to accompany Roy to Central City in an attempt to restore order to the capital. Alphonse had gone ahead with Roy and Hughes, while Edward had stayed behind in order to be fitted for automail limbs. Ed (with Winry accompanying) had showed up just in time for the worst of the fighting (again), and the combination of the Flame Alchemist and the Elric Brothers proved to be enough to throw back the enemy. For now at least.

A semblance of peace settled across the land. It was fragile, and illusive, but it was there nonetheless. And now Roy had to figure out how to keep it.

"So I hear that East area HQ has been cleared now," Edward said, holding up his automail arm and watching it flex.

"Yes. Al-kun did a wonderful job of rebuilding the damaged sections," Roy said. "And now that you've cleared out the chimeras in that area, we can open it up again to habitation."

"That will help, the refugee camps are massively over-crowded," Ed said bleakly. "Granny Pinako says that if they don't get some space soon there will either be a riot or a pestilence. I went to visit her, and I'm betting on disease. The drainage there is awful and they're running out of clean water."

Roy nodded and then hesitated. "You know of course that Pinako is welcome here at the HQ..." He didn't bother asking if Ed had tried to help the camps. He'd already received reports about the "Cloaked Alchemist's" appearance and miraculous creation of streams in two of the camps. It would buy them at least another six weeks before conditions deteriorated further.

Ed shook his head. "She won't come. She says they need her there, and she's right. And anyway, she doesn't have much time for the military."

Roy winced. "So, what brings you to see me this time? I've already received your report on the chimera-disposal."

"Actually, I'm here on a personal matter," Edward said. "I want you to leave Al alone."

Roy paused. "I don't know what you mean."

Ed snorted rudely. "You know exactly what I mean. All these people you've got following him around telling him how wonderful he is and how just having him around makes them feel safe. You're trying to guilt-trip him into staying and helping and I want it stopped. Now."

Roy steepled his fingers. "Why should I do that?" He inquired softly. "The people who are saying these things are telling him nothing but the truth."

"Because Al has a life to go back to!" Ed exploded. "He's got a fiancee and a home and a FAMILY, and you're trying to turn him into a hero for the masses and force him to stay here and fight and it will DESTROY him."

Roy winced. "I know," he whispered. "But I need him. There's still so much to do."

"If he DIES it will hurt morale more than letting him go will," Ed said angrily. "Not that you'll be around to care, because if you let him get hurt fighting your battles AGAIN I will kill you." He paused and shook the anger off. "Let him go, please. I'm begging you."

"I don't have that authority..." Roy started.

"You will soon enough, Fuhrer."

Roy paused. "That has not yet been decided."

Ed waved the argument away. "If Bradley was still alive he'd have come back by now. That means we need a new Fuhrer, and right now, YOU are the only candidate."

"But until I am confirmed, it remains treasonous to say otherwise," Roy said distantly. "Consider this a warning."

Ed sighed. "Fine, be that way. But if, just IF you became Fuhrer, I would ask you to let Al go."

Roy cocked his head, "And what," he enquired, "would I get in return?"

"Me," Edward said, taking a deep breath. "I'll stay and work for you. Take me and let Al go."

"You think pretty highly of yourself. What makes you think I would even want you?" Roy asked curiously.

Ed gave him a level stare. "You may not want me, but you NEED me. You said so yourself when we first met."

Roy winced, "I didn't think you could hear me."

Ed just smirked at him. "Well?"

"Why?" Roy asked, curiously. "You realise that you're essentially selling yourself to the government. You'd have to be a State Alchemist, a dog of the military."

"Better me than Al. I can handle it, he can't," Edward replied flatly. "And besides..." he tilted his head to stare at the ceiling. "I've been a lone operative for years now, but I've been thinking it's about time there was some coordination in my work. Some follow-up on my efforts..." He rolled his head over to stare at Roy. "So that everything I do isn't in vain."

Roy's lips twitched in the beginnings of a smile. "It sounds like you're offering ME the chance to work with YOU, rather than the other way around."

Ed gave him a slow smirk. "Maybe I am."

Roy considered his choices, got up from his chair and walked over to sit next to Ed on the couch. "Of course, you'll have to pass the exam first."

"Don't insult me."

Roy chuckled. "And we'll have to give you a new name," he said thoughtfully. "The Cloaked Alchemist has too much of a history of siding with the people AGAINST the military. I want people to know you work for ME now."

Ed shrugged. "It's just a name people started using. It doesn't mean anything to me."

Roy was silent for a moment before he spoke up again. "Your friend Winry told me something once. She said that it was odd that the thing that bothered her the most about the battle was that your house was destroyed, because as long as you had somewhere to return to, she knew you would always come home, no matter how far you wandered."

Ed didn't say anything.

"Do you think..." Roy hesitated. "Do you think you could find a home here?"

There was a long silence.

"Funny, I always thought you were a cat person," Ed said eventually.

"No," Roy stretched an arm out and settled it around Ed's shoulders. "I like dogs."

Ed leant his weight against Roy. "Just as long as you remember that inside every dog is a wolf."

"Huh," Roy banged his knuckles on Ed's metal shoulder. "And as long as YOU remember not to go pulling any more crazy stunts like the one you pulled back at Liezenbul. You managed to destroy one homunculi in that manner, but next time you'll need to come up with something different. If we have to rebuild any more of you, your whole body will be made of metal. Hmmm..." He thought about that.

"Fullmetal. What do you think of that for a name?"

"Fullmetal huh?" Ed closed his eyes and considered it. His lips curved in a smile. "I like the weight of that name."

Roy closed his own eyes and let himself relax at last.

"Welcome home, Fullmetal."

End.



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