Alfons looked down Southampton Water from Dock Head, the early morning sun slowly burning through the light fog shrouding the port. Breathing in deeply, the young man was still enjoying the novelty of being able to do so without the inevitable tightening of his chest, and the horrible, lung clenching coughing fits that always followed. No longer was he a prisoner of the tubercular infection that had been gradually snuffing out his life. The Amestrian medicine had done its job, and the young German was a free man.
It had been six months to the day since Alfons had arrived in England, and he was finally leaving the sanctuary Phillip Armstrong had been happy to provide, though he was not homeward bound for Germany. He was on his way to Auburn Massachusetts, to meet with Robert Goddard. The Clark University professor had very graciously invited the young physicist to join his research team, and Alfons had jumped at the chance to work with the notoriously unconventional rocket scientist. Though the man's ideas were ridiculed in some circles, Alfons had found Goddard's proposal of liquid fuelled, multi staged rockets to be most intriguing, and had written to the man to clarify some points with him. That had marked the beginning of a very satisfying, ongoing correspondence, culminating in the invitation that Alfons had recently accepted.
Although the young man still missed Munich, the prospect of going to America wasn't quite as daunting as it could have been. Tristan Curtis was coming along after all. Friendship between the two young men thrown together by fantastic circumstance had grown until the two were practically inseparable. It was a foregone conclusion that where Alfons went, Tristan would follow as confidant and protector, and Alfons wouldn't have had it any other way. Though reluctant to see their only child off into the wide world, Izumi and Sig had known there would be no way to dissuade him, and so had given the boy their blessing. He stood now beside Alfons, following his friend's gaze across deep water, hands clasped behind his back, a wry smile quirking his lips.
"What are you thinking about to smile that way?" Alfons asked, curious.
The muscular youth glanced aside to his friend before returning his gaze to the sea. "I was just thinking about the voyage we will be taking, and wondering about our Amestrian friends. I still wonder sometimes if their journey saw them home, safe and happy."
Alfons often found himself thinking of the otherworlders as well. Since Alphonse had bid them farewell and slipped away, there had been no further contact, and thus no way to know if the Edward, Hohenheim, and Mustang had survived their passage through the Gate. Of course there was no reason to doubt that they had, but still, it would have been nice to know for sure. There was absolutely no way to find out though, and Alfons had realized a taste of what Edward had been going through for the two years he had spent trapped here on earth, completely out of touch with his loved ones.
"I'm sure they're fine," Alfons said reassuringly. "They are a strong and stubborn bunch. Jumping through wormholes to different worlds would almost be a walk in the park for the likes of them, particularly after all they had been through."
"Do you think we will ever hear from them again?"
"Spending time with Edward taught me that anything is possible," Alfons said with a smile.
"When I look up into the night sky at all the stars, I wonder if one of them could be the sun that lights their world." Tristan grinned at his friend, eyes twinkling. "Maybe one day you will build a rocket that could take us there."
Alfons returned the grin, reaching up to clap a hand on the taller youth's shoulder. After all, when it came right down to it, all he had ever wanted to do was build rockets. Travel through space, to the moon and beyond, was his dream.
Who knew what the future might hold?
Alphonse hopped off the train and scanned the busy platform for his father. Central Station was a chaos of rushing people, but the old man's height made Von Hohenheim easy to spot as he made his way toward his youngest son, contented smile in place. The young alchemist's face lit with a grin of his own as he moved to meet the older man.
"It's good to see you Alphonse," Hohenheim said as he took hold of the boy's luggage. "You're looking well. Resembool obviously agrees with you. How was the trip?"
"It was three days sitting on a train," Alphonse said with a shrug. "And it's good to see you too, dad."
The pair pressed their way to the exit amid the crush of early morning commuters, out to the street and the waiting military car. Behind the wheel sat First Lieutenant Havoc, unlit cigarette balanced on his grin.
"Hey Al!" Havoc greeted the boy.
"Hey Lieutenant Havoc!" Al returned the greeting. "Has anyone heard from brother and the General?"
"Edward called me last night to say that they were in South City, and would likely be arriving in Central sometime tomorrow morning, right on schedule," Hohenheim told him as he tossed his son's suitcase in the trunk and slammed down the lid.
Although he had been expecting it, Alphonse grinned from ear to ear at this long awaited news. He could hardly wait to see his brother again. The last six months had seemed longer than the previous two years. "And how is your new job going, dad? Are you getting along with Furher Gruman?"
"I suppose," the old man said, scratching his chin thoughtfully as he nudged his son into the back seat of the car and slid in to join him. "I'm somewhat impressed to be honest. For a politician, and a military man on top of that, he's surprisingly intelligent. He has a great deal of personal and professional integrity as well. He's no Churchill of course, but I'm sure few people could measure up against that standard, on this or any other world."
Havoc shot a questioning glance through the rear view mirror at Alphonse, who shrugged. The young alchemist sometimes wondered if his father knew what world he was currently inhabiting, or if he even cared. Then he caught the amused look his father cast in his direction and smiled. So, he was being had. Well that was fine. It might take him some time to get to know his father before he got a handle on the man's strange sense of humour, but when he did, Hohenheim had best watch out. Alphonse would be only too happy to give as good as he got.
The youngster turned his attention to their driver. "And how about you, Lieutenant Havoc?" Alphonse asked, a twinkle in his eye. "Are you and Miss Riza still the talk of the town?"
Havoc's face lit up with a spectacular grin. "You bet," he said, and then said no more, his smile enough to say it all.
"Well, let's get you home and fed, Alphonse," Hohenheim said, giving a little wave to get Havoc moving. "We'll likely get very little time to relax after Edward gets here tomorrow, so we'd best get our catching up done now while we have the chance."
Yes, it was bound to be busy once brother and the General arrived in Central. There would be tales to spin, secrets to keep, and the inevitable public inquiry to deal with. But the end was in sight. Edward was home safe and sound, and that was all Alphonse had ever wanted. Before long things would go back to normal, or as normal as it ever got in a family of genius alchemists.
Alphonse looked forward to discovering what it would be like to just live for today.
From his comfortable vantage point, head pillowed on Roy's shoulder, Ed watched the early morning sunlight slanting through the window creep slowly across the bed to cast shadow patterns amidst the rumpled sheets. Its measured advance gradually spread a golden glow across Roy's pale skin, and Edward's fingers followed that slow progress with a touch too light to disturb the older man's sleep.
Edward smiled lazily, sighing quietly, contentedly. It had been six months since the pair had returned from the other world, since their first night in the Armstrong manor, and the young man still found himself wondering what he could possibly have done to deserve this. In a life tainted by sin and guilt, bad choices and worse fortune, how had a total mess like him lucked into such an amazingly happy ending?
The pair would soon be back in Central, the final phase of their plan ready for execution.
Edward thought back to those days, months ago, when he and Roy along with Alex Armstrong had worked out a plausible explanation for their return that did not include voluntary travel through the Gate from this world. The plan they had agreed on had been for Roy and Edward to lie low for a while, then surface far from Amestris and journey back.
From the Armstrong villa in Creta, the two alchemists had set out, their ultimate destination Xing. Avoiding Amestrian soil entirely for fear of being recognized, Roy and Ed had travelled the long, southern route through Creta to Aerugo's southern coast. Then, making their way to the deep water port of Oua, they had booked passage on the first ship bound for the Far East. Using no alchemy, and keeping Edward's automail hidden, the pair had arrived incognito at their destination without incident.
The journey had been no great hardship. In fact, Edward found it almost therapeutic after what they had been through. Spending time alone with Roy, no imminent threat hanging over their heads to intrude, gave them a chance to really get to know each other, and their relationship had flourished. As much as he used to bitch and complain about it, Edward had always secretly enjoyed the nomadic lifestyle that seeking the Philosopher's Stone with his brother required. It was good to once again be traveling with someone he loved and trusted. Of course traveling with Al had never been like this.
As he slowly traced his fingers over the landscape of Roy's chest, down to dust lightly along the curve of the dark haired man's hip, Ed let his eyes map the contours of his lovers sleeping face. The Flame's exotic features were completely relaxed in repose. Roy's lips held the hint of a smile, his dark hair ink splashed against the white spread of the pillow. The smooth, crescent shaped scar marking where Roy's left eye had been did nothing to detract from the older man's attractiveness as far as Ed was concerned. Roy was always beautiful, but never more so than when sleeping so peacefully by Ed's side. It was a sight the younger man never tired of. But as of tomorrow morning, his time for a lazy, early morning appreciation of his slumbering lover would likely be at an end, for a little while at least.
They were on their way home. The mere thought made Edward tingle with anticipation. His contact with Alphonse had been far too brief and erratic for his liking, and the older Elric looked forward to spending some long overdue time with his little brother. They had a lot of catching up to do, and Edward looked forward to it. He also looked forward to seeing Winry and Granny Pinako again. Some down time in Resembool after the military had satisfied themselves that he had no otherworldly secrets to divulge sounded just about right.
The stage was set for their official return to Amestris, Roy already having contacted Furher Gruman from Xing to say that he had returned to this world, was on his way to Amestris, and the Fullmetal Alchemist was with him. Backed up by Hohenheim, their story would be simple. A gateway to the other world could only be opened from the other side, and even the otherworlders couldn't predict where they would come out in this one, which was why Roy and Ed had found themselves in Xing. Worse yet, the gateways were so unstable that they often caused widespread destruction when opened, substantiated by the earthquakes in Lior and Central. And to top it all off, they were prone to collapsing spontaneously without warning.
As for any intelligence on the other world's fantastic technology, the pair planned to claim that as prisoners of that world's military, they had not been privy to the specifics of their scientific advances. Indeed, they had been lucky to escape their captors, who had wanted their prisoner's alchemical secrets as bad as Amestris' military wanted the other world's weapons.
On the surface, their story seemed sound, and Edward only hoped that it would hold up in practice. The younger alchemist wasn't looking forward to the interrogation the pair were sure to be subject too. According to Phillip Armstrong, General Hakuro would likely be in charge of the investigation, and he was a hard man to deal with at the best of times. Frustrated by what he would unreasonably perceive as a lack of cooperation, like a cranky toddler deprived of a desperately wanted new toy, he was bound to be at his worst. Still, if Edward and Roy remained consistent to their tale, it would eventually work out in their favour.
For Roy the hope was that once their story was accepted he would be welcomed back into the military with his rank intact. And for Edward? Well, with his whole life was stretching out in front of him, the young man was content to wait and see. He had a future, and what he did with it was his to decide, but the only thing the young alchemist was sure he wanted at this point was to spend that future with Roy. There was no rush to make those decisions right now. Edward could at least wait until the furor their arrival in Central was sure to cause had died down before looking beyond.
At the moment however all the drama was still a day away, and Edward wasn't going waste these last few moments of calm worrying about the coming storm. There were more important things to be concerned with. Like coming up with a creative way to awaken his lover for example. If he played his cards right, Edward was sure he could convince Roy that there were better things to do right now in this bed than sleep. Come to think of it, knowing Mustang, he could probably do that even if he played his cards wrong.
Then Roy opened his eye, and a sleepy smile moved close to brush against Edward's. It was times like these when the younger man wondered if this were a dream, but never in his wildest had he imagined this, to be loved like this, to love like this. Trapped on the other side of the Gate his dreams had been of Al, and home, and he had been sure that he would never see either again.
His thoughts were swept away as Roy's lips against his became more insistent. This wasn't a dream. No dream could make him feel the way Roy did, strong, confident, invincible to the attacks they were sure to face very soon. It had been years since he and Al had burned down their house and walked away, and he had never looked back, never once felt that sense of belonging that makes a home. Until now.
This was Edward's dream come true.
Envy lazily coiled himself through the featureless white landscape between worlds, jaws clamped tight with fury. It was always the same. It didn't matter how far or fast he travelled. As soon as he turned around, the Black Gate was there just behind him, the stylized eye impressed in its doors mocking him. The sin had battered himself bloody against it in fits of rage many times, to no avail. Now the homunculus spent most of his time looped around the Gate's twisted figures of suffering, imagining that he held his father there, though the stone effigies did not give him the satisfaction of crumbling no matter how hard he squeezed them.
He had tried everything he could think of, offered everything he had and many things he did not, but the Gate had ignored him, refusing to open. It would have to be opened from the other side. Fine. The way those wretched humans clung to their loved ones even after their time was done guaranteed that sooner or later one of them would show up, looking to beat the odds and call back someone dear to them. And when that happened and those ebon doors finally swung open, the homunculus would be ready. He would slip through, back into the real world. And then his pathetic blood kin would pay. It was only a matter of time.
He could be patient. He had all the time in the world.