Ad Astra Per Aspera

Izumi had never taken students before; Edward and Alphonse were the first. They were small when she met them, looking up at her from her knees, Edward's face defiant and Alphonse's scared but trying to be brave like his brother's. Edward had a mouth of a kid twice his age; Alphonse was forever apologizing for him, looking at her with fear in his eyes as he held his kicking, screaming brother back and yelling over him, Sorry, master, sorry, please forgive him.

It was interesting, years later, to see how much they had changed, and how little.

Edward crossed his arms and cocked his head at her, eyes narrowed and lips pulled into a grim defiant expression. "So, master?" he said, and Al behind him looked as worried as a piece of metal could, holding up his hands like he could shield himself and his brother from the flood of Izumi's rage. "What are you going to do?"

Ed had always had nerves of steel; she could hit him over and over again but he'd never break, just stand up again, spine straight and head held high, just waiting for the next blow. She admired that in a kid, bratty and annoying as it was, and she admired it still. Izumi crossed her own arms, mimicking his position, and walked around the edges of the array, noting the perfect circle, the smooth, strong lines so different from the brothers' childish scribbles. "It looks fine," she said, bending down and smoothing a stray line, rubbing it so it disappeared back into the ground. "You've improved more than I thought you would."

Ed bristled a little, but Al stepped in and said, "Will it work, do you think, master?"

"No," said Izumi, tapping her chin. "I don't think it will work."

While Ed knelt down and began rubbing away at the array, breaking up the individual components until, apart, they were all meaningless. "Then we'll keep working until it will work," he said, standing up and pressing his hands against his face, shocking white next to his bronze eyes. "I'll never stop."

Izumi looked at him and saw the child she'd taken in all those years ago, saw those things she should have seen then: the brutal, unyielding determination, the mind closed to all logic but his own, a bright, beaming star spiraling towards its own destruction. "It will never work," she said; "that is the law of the universe. Go wash your hands, Edward, and then both of you come in to dinner."

She turned and began walking into her house, and turned halfway to look at the brothers over her shoulder. Ed was poised over the dusty remnants of their array with Al leaning over him, a huge metal body overshadowing his brother's tiny, compact frame. Always on Al's face was that soft, sad expression, paralleled by the fierce unyieldingness on Ed's. They were like two halves of a whole, she thought, and like she had then, she dreaded to think of what would happen if a half that whole were to go.

Ed at rest was an entirely different sort of creature altogether, sharp curves and hard corners softened by contemplation and a weariness too heavy for someone so young. Roy looked away, back down into his drink, and stirred it a little, hearing the clink of ice as they bumped against each other.

"So when are these meteor showers supposed to start, anyway?" Ed asked, slinking down a little so he could rest his chin on the railing and fling his arms over it. His voice was bored, but Roy thought he might be more interested in it than he pretended to be: Ed was a scientist, after all.

"A few minutes," he replied, not bothering to check his watch. "Do try to stay awake, Edward. I know it's little boys' bedtime, but you won't see these again for a long time."

Ed glared at him. "You mean it's old men's bedtime," he shot back, straightening a little, fire coming back into his eyes. "And try not to drink too much coffee when you get up early, Colonel, I hear that it slows down mobility of?"

"Look," said Roy, pointing up. A bright light streaked across the sky, then died out near the horizon. He heard breath catch next to him, and then Ed was pulling himself up on the railing, balancing on his hands and leaning over the balcony as far as he could. Ed pressed a hand to his forehead, shielding his eyes, and at the next little light he laughed, delighted, surprised, childish.

"Oh, check out that one," said Ed, nudging Roy in the ribs. "Did you see, it lasted longer than any of the others."

"Sometimes they do that." Roy shielded his own eyes, too. "They die quickly, but every now and then you'll get one that just doesn't want to go."

"Wonder what makes that happen," Ed said quietly, musing. "There must be some explanation?the mass is less or the gravity?"

"Just enjoy the show, Fullmetal. I didn't bring you out here to think." Roy tilted his glass, raising it to the stars so that the next star dissolved into the icecubes, lighting them up. "To brave meteors, then," he said, clinking his cup on Ed's metal arm.

Ed rubbed the wet spot the glass left behind, snorting. "Brave meteors. You are an old man, Colonel, old and sappy."

"Brave meteors," Roy repeated, favoring Ed with a smirk. "And let them not be us."

Alphonse's two children loved hearing stories about their uncle. "Tell us about Uncle Ed," and they would climb all over his knees and curl around his neck and beg and shout until it annoyed their mother, who chased them out of her shop with a wrench. She yelled to stop bothering their father and read books if they wanted to know about their uncle, dammit, he was worthless anyway.

As they grew older, they read all the books and came to Alphonse with quieter faces. "Tell us about Uncle Edward," they would say, sitting at the table with their textbooks and notebooks sprawled everywhere. "Did you love him?" And their mother would yell at them again; stop bothering your father and do your homework. Go to university if you want to know about your uncle.

And they came home from university with their friends and they asked, Dad, tell us about the Fullmetal Alchemist. Alphonse told them to go help their mother clean out her shop; she'd had too many customers that day and she needed the extra help. They would say irritably that he could do it with his alchemy, much faster; Alphonse would smile and hold his hands close together, almost a clap, and they would hurry to do what he said.

When his children were married with children of their own, they sat out on the porch together, in the thick summer night, and smoked cigarettes while they regaled their father with tales of the countryside, how everyone loved and respected them for their skills. They always ask us about our uncle, they said, when we tell them our last name. Did you ever get tired of that, Dad? We never know what to say.

Al smiled and pointed up at the sky, to the bright star that shone in the north, and told them, That's what you say. Tell them this: that Edward Elric was a star.