A/N: It's been a while. This here's the final chapter, but maybe not quite the end for this universe. More info at the end.
There were two situations where Ed woke up without his arm and leg. One: Winry was working on them overnight and he was safe in his room at Granny Pinako's. Two: a sociopathic murderer had knocked him out and removed them.
Considering he had just been doused in ice cold water and was most definitely tied to a chair, he was pretty sure which of the two situation he had fallen into.
The Fullmetal Alchemist looked up at his captor slowly, a growl building in his chest. The man laughed.
"You know, I really thought you would be bigger."
Ed cracked his neck on either side, never breaking eye contact.
The man—alchemist—chuckled. "I never thought I'd meet the great Fullmetal Alchemist! Truly, it's an honor."
The alchemist turned and Ed took the opportunity to look for Steve and Clint. The Avengers were locked in the cage with the unconscious victims Ed had spotted earlier. Clint was still out, but Steve shook his head quickly.
Damn. The bars were too strong. Probably made alchemically. His stomach flopped queasily as he glanced at the floor around the chair: he was at the center of an array. From the look of it, a human transmutation array.
"Did you know, my son took the State Alchemy exam the same year as you?" The man turned back to face Ed, tossing a knife between his hands. "He'd studied medical alchemy for his entire life. He swore it was going to be his year. And then a fucking twelve-year-old showed up." The man's face twisted. "Do you know how humiliating that was?"
He pressed the knife up against Ed's cheek, their faces only inches apart.
"You kill people because your son's a sucky alchemist?" Ed snarked. The knife sliced deeply, followed immediately by a sharp hit to the teenager's jaw, snapping his head back and letting loose some of the hair out of his braid. Ed aggressively spat blood as the man shook out his hand.
"My son," the older alchemist said, his back to the chair. "Was ten times the man you are, boy. Good and strong. Kinder than I ever was."
Ed's eyes widened. "Oh, you old fool," he breathed.
"Who is the fool?" the man thundered, spinning back around towards Ed without a denial. "I've not been as stupid as you were!" He gestured to the pile of automail in the corner. "I can bring him back!"
Ed clenched his jaw. "It won't work."
"Just because a little brat couldn't do it doesn't mean that I can't," the man stated, his eyes shining madly.
"Listen, old man, it won't work. There is no equivalent exchange for a human soul!"
"No equivalent. Well, that's just small minded, boy. I'm sure I can find the right number."
"Oh, God," Ed saw Steve whisper, looking back and forth between the two alchemists. Ed looked intently at the super-soldier, then at the cage. Steve nodded, looking sick, and turned to the bars.
"It's not one. Or two. Or three. I was hoping four would do the trick, but now—Well, you've accelerated my time-table, boy. We'll try seven today."
"If your son was the man you say he was, he wouldn't want this," Ed warned. "He'll never be able live with himself if you succeed."
The crack from the man's backhand echoed throughout the basement.
Ed spat and twisted his available wrist against the rope. "I knew a man who had lives, thousands of lives, traded for his own without his consent. He was fucking messed up. He couldn't kill himself, but by God, that didn't stop him from trying. Think about the consequences!"
"The Gate will make him forget."
"You can't tell the Gate what to give and take, you fucking moron," Ed spat. "It does what it wants."
"Don't tell me," the man started grimly, "what I can't do."
"Listen here, you son of a bitch," Ed growled, "when you went through the Gate, Truth was distracted, I mean, epically distracted. He was losing a fucking war. If you go through again, you're fucked, your son's fucked, everyone's fucked. Truth wants you dead."
"Just shut up!" the man yelled, emphasizing his point with a blow to the face. Ed tried to roll with it.
"What'd you steal anyway? English? Pennies, compared to the debt you got dumped on you when you pulled one over on Truth."
"Then we'll stay here! It doesn't make a damn difference."
The man was pacing now, agitated. Ed kept twisting his wrist. If he could just keep him talking for long enough, they were golden.
"How did you know Shou Tucker?" Ed asked after a moment, unable to find another topic that would keep him occupied. The man kept pacing.
"My son researched with him for a few years, before he made his breakthrough."
"You mean killed his wife. You know that's what he did, right?"
"A necessary sacrifice to further our understanding of alchemy."
"No," Ed said. "Murder. You know that. Why else would you use his daughter's name?"
"Nina—Nina was a good girl—"
"Damn straight she was."
"It was unfortunate, what happened to her."
"It was murder," Ed stressed. "Which is what you're doing right now. But you don't have to. You can be better than Tucker—"
"Unfortunate," the man repeated, staring at the wall. "But necessary."
Ed's vision went red and he dragged the rope against his wrist savagely, feeling blood flow down his hand. "You bastard. You take that back! I'll kill you myself, you son of a bitch!"
"I'd like to see you try," the man said, circling behind him with the knife. "Unfortunately, I'm not a very patient man. I think I'll take a souvenir for my son before you die."
Ed's braid tugged against the nape of his neck.
"Oh, fuck no! Get you slimy hands off my hair you perverted bastard! I will bury you in a shallow grave, I swear to God!"
The man chuckled and circled back around, a golden braid in his left hand. "I'll say it again, boy: I'd love to see you try."
Ed felt the blood dripping down his hand and hoped that his fingers knew what they were doing without his eyes to guide them. "Well, I guess it's your lucky day!"
Blue arcs of energy danced across the floor and the concrete rose up to knock the man on his back.
Ed activated the seconded array, dissolving the rope, then hastily dropped to the ground and started drawing, blood flowing down his hand from his mangled wrist. The man wouldn't be down for long. Ed slapped a hand down just as a thick metal pipe slammed into his side. He rolled onto his back just in time to deflect the second blow with his shoulder.
The pipe came down three more times, and then Steve was there.
Steve couldn't get the bars to budge. Whatever they were made of, he had never encountered it before. Clint was still out cold in the corner. Steve had no idea how long he'd been out himslef, but he figured the archer would be out for at least twice that. He was surprised at how quickly Ed had burned through it, but considering that the perp had doused him when he did, it was probably normal for Amestrians.
Steve wasn't following the majority of what the pair were saying, but he knew it was bad. The word souls had come up way too many times for him to be comfortable. He figured Ed had some sort of plan, but knowing him, it was probably a stupid-ass plan.
Unfortunately, he couldn't do anything about it because the damn bars were too damn strong.
"'at th'ell.." Clint groaned. "What happened?"
"Some sort of gas, I think. From that machine over there." Steve pointed to the machine in the corner.
"Don't think so."
"Can—" Clint winced as Ed took a blow to the side. "Can you get through the bars?"
"I don't think so," Steve said, grimacing as he gave it another try. "I don't know what they're made of, but it's strong."
Both men flinched as Ed took another hit.
"He's baiting him on purpose," Clint observed. "What's his play?"
Steve shrugged. "He wanted me to try the bars, but I hope he wasn't counting on me getting through them."
"You figure they're made with Ed's mumbo jumbo?"
Clint frowned. "Remember those hash marks in the rock?"
Steve froze. "You think…?"
"The strength might be mostly vertical and horizontal, if you—"
Steve grabbed hold of a bar with both hands and twisted.
The bar groaned and warped but didn't break. Steve tried again and it started to splinter like pine, the fibers crackling under the torque.
Steve shook out his hands and panted: "This is going to take a while."
Clint flinched every time the bar crackled. And every time the maniac hit Ed. And every time the maniac even started to turn in their direction.
Clint was not having a good day.
The only upside to the situation was that the kid was handling their perp like a champ. From his spot in the corner, he could see the steady twisting of Ed's wrist against the rope binding it to the chair.
Steve was making progress, but he was having about as much luck at breaking the bar as the rope was at breaking Ed's wrist.
No, Clint was betting on the kid for this one, whatever his plan was.
He jerked his gaze toward the array at the center of the room when Ed yelled: "Well, I guess it's your lucky day!"
Blue lightning flashed against the basement walls and both Ed and the perp were on the ground.
"Get ready," Cap ordered, and the bars melted into the ground, too slowly for Clint's liking. Both men were out in a flash as soon as the space was big enough: Steve headed straight for Ed and the man towering over him, Clint headed for the corner holding his bow and quiver.
By the time he had an arrow knocked (which was an incredibly short time, all things considered, if you asked Clint), the perp was safely unconscious.
Ed clutched his ribs and lay his head back, panting. "Ow."
"Good work, pal," Steve stated, clapping the kid on the knee before going to check on the prisoners unconscious in another cage.
"Of course it was, jackass. My work is always good," Ed grumbled as the captain left, his eyes slowly slipping closed.
Clint wandered over to the metal limbs in the corner. "You're going to owe me a new back after lifting these things, kid," he groaned. "Damn, they're heavy."
"Quit whining." Ed forced himself to a seated position as Clint came back, his golden eyes glaring. "This is the worst day of the year. What day is it? We need to make it into a holiday and get drunk every year in remembrance of how horrible it was."
"Leg or arm first?"
Ed sighed. "Arm." Clint handed it over, looking the kid over for injuries as he slotted it into place and grit his teeth. "Leg," he grunted, holding out both hands. Clint held it out wordlessly, continuing his visual medical examination. The kid was pretty banged up: bleeding lip, wicked bruise across his left cheekbone, bloody teeth. Plus a few broken ribs, by the way he was moving as he reattached his leg. There was blood in his hair, and Clint wondered if he'd taken a hit to the head with that pipe.
From the way he was swaying, the answer was probably yes.
Clint held out a hand as soon as the prosthetic was attached, but Ed just flopped back down onto the concrete.
"Fuck," he breathed.
"He doesn't like you much, does he?" Clint asked wryly.
Ed just scowled. "Asshole."
"Me or him?"
By the time they had gotten back to the quinjet, Steve was just about carrying Ed, the younger man trying to complain, but having to stop frequently to focus on breathing. They'd flown straight to Dr. Cho's clinic after dropping off the other prisoners with the local cops, telling the others to pick up the alchemist from there, and to bring Alphonse.
The doctor took one look at Ed and shook her head. "Again?"
Clint shrugged. "He's got shitty luck."
"Let me prep the cradle. This is going to take a few rounds."
Ed looked like hell warmed over, but Clint figured he'd be okay considering the thing he seemed the most upset about was the loss of his hair.
"You know how long it took to grow that out? Years, man. Not cool," he'd said to the perp as soon as he'd woken up. "Also you're a son of a bitch and I hope Truth skins you alive. Which he probably will. He was awful mad."
Yeah, Clint figured he'd be okay.
Clint turned his head toward Alphonse, who was wheeling down the hall towards him at Mach speed.
"Hey, Al, you looking for Ed?"
"Yes, sir," the boy answered, scowling.
"They're prepping him for the cradle, he's in that room there. They're worried about his lung collapsing before he gets in, so I'd hurry if I were you."
Hoo boy, Ed was in for a doozy.
Sure enough, the yelling in Amestrian started as soon as Al entered the room.
"Why the hell didn't you wait for backup, you idiot!"
"Al, come on, I thought—"
"No, you didn't think, which is always your problem. Do you even have anything inside that thick skull?"
"Al, I'm okay—"
"Okay?" Al yelled shrilly, moving out of the way for one of the nurses. "This is not okay! You could've died!"
"I know, Al," Ed placated. "I was really stupid, okay? You're right. Now get over here, punk."
The brothers latched on to each other and didn't let go until the nurses started to get antsy.
"Oh, Brother," Al lamented when they finally detached. He was looking down at his white shirt, now spotted with Ed's blood.
"Hey, it's okay. This fancy machine thing will fix me up in no time. The future is amazing!"
Al apparently wasn't ready to be cheered up.
"Are you really okay, Brother? Honestly?"
"No." Ed picked at the waistband of his fresh blue pants. "But I will be, Al. My hair will grow back eventually," he said, sighing dramatically.
"You are so vain," Al teased.
"All a man has is his hair, Al," Ed mused, his eyes slipping closed.
Alphonse sighed. "Goodnight, brother."
"Dr. Cho says he'll make a full recovery," Steve informed.
"That's good to hear," Tony responded over the coms, relief evident in his voice. "I should've just come anyway, when you called. The suit would've filtered out whatever the hell that compound was. How much did you say it affected you?"
"Mostly surprised me, shook it off in a minute or two. Just long enough for him to move me into the cage."
"Still that's not normal. I'll have to talk to Ed about exactly how weird of shit an alchemist can cook up. Clint said he'd never gotten hit that hard with anything. And Clint gets knocked out on like a bi-weekly basis."
"He's got shit luck, I guess."
"No kidding." Tony paused. "Asshole's locked up tight. You still at Cho's?"
"No, I just got to the Tower. Clint's staying with the boys."
Tony hung up and Steve sighed, the door to his apartment opening as he walked up with a quiet "Welcome back, Captain" from Friday.
"Heard the kid got worked over."
Steve shook his head, smiling at the voice from the kitchen. "Hey there, Nat. Was wondering where you got to."
"Hey yourself." Steve could practically hear the smirk. "He'll be alright?"
"Yeah, I think so."
Natasha nodded. "He'll pull through, Steve. Kid's tough. Plus, something tells me this wasn't his first rodeo."
Steve nodded, sighing. "What are you up to, Nat?"
The spy took a sip from the mug of tea she had clearly made in his kitchen.
"Found your boy," she said, and Steve immediately ceased caring about the privacy issue. "He's in Romania, checked it out myself. Wanted to be sure before I got your hopes up."
"Did you talk to him?" Steve asked, a thousand possibilities running through his head at once.
Nat shook her head. "He would've run, I think. You might be able to make contact."
"Nat, I—Thank you," Steve said sincerely.
"My pleasure," Natasha answered from behind her mug. "I wouldn't worry about getting there immediately. He's pretty entrenched. Has an apartment, job, the works. See the kid off, before you go."
Steve nodded absently. "Of course."
As soon as the doctor let Ed loose, he went to ask Tony if he could use the roof of the Tower for the array.
"'Course, kid, it's yours for the taking. You sure about this, though? You could stick around, see the sights a bit."
"We've gotta go back, Tony. Everyone there probably thinks we're dead. You damn well better be working on a portal, though."
The billionaire laughed. "Kid, I've been working on a portal since the day you walked into my lab."
Steve came up to the roof as Ed was starting to chalk.
"So what are you going to occupy your time with once I'm not around to apologize to?" Ed laughed, bumping shoulders (well, not Steve shoulder, more like his elbow, but who was counting?) with the older man.
Steve rolled his eyes. "I'm going to Romania to drop in on an old friend."
Ed looked at him sharply, recognizing the half-truth. "They know you're coming?"
"Er, not really?" Steve answered rubbing the back of his neck.
Ed just shook his head. "Good luck. I have a feeling you're going to need it."
Clint was sitting on the edge of the roof when Ed finished the array, eating one of Thor's poptarts. He handed Ed one as he walked up.
"Heading home, then?"
Ed nodded. Clint looked over the skyline.
"You take care of yourself, kid."
The redhead appeared to sit next to Clint.
"Um, sorry for the day we met," Ed said awkwardly. "I never got the chance to say it before."
The woman looked at him and he felt like he was under a microscope. "Don't sweat it, kid. You had your back to the wall."
Tony brought Al up just as Ed was going to go get him. Steve was dropping the alchemist in the center of the array, sedated.
"You ready, Brother?" Al asked. Ed looked around the roof. The whole team had assembled, minus the red guy, the scary brunette, and the winged guy, who were training upstate. He was surprised at the pang of sadness he felt. If there were a way to merge the two worlds, he realized, he would.
"As I'll ever be," he sighed after a moment. "Let's go."
He saluted lazily towards the crowd, then placed his hands on the edge of the circle. They were good people, but he was damn ready to go home. Maybe have a long conversation with Winry.
The circle lit up.
"Hello, Mr. Al-chem-ist."
Well, that was that. Tony sighed. He'd really liked the kid. Maybe he'd talk to Jane Foster about portals, she might be able to speed things up. Hell, maybe Thor would know something. The readings from this transmutation would help, hopefully. Friday hadn't been able to collect and save all the data from their arrival.
Steve was already headed for the elevator, off to chase his assassin best friend around the globe again. Clint didn't look like he planned on moving from his perch anytime soon. Nat was headed his way. Maybe he'd just call Jane right now, what time was it in—
"Boss, the portal is opening again."
"What?" Clint said, suddenly off the lip of the roof.
"Repeat that, Friday?"
Steve had turned around. Natasha pulled out her gun.
"The portal is about to open, boss."
"From where? On the roof? Who's in it?" Tony rattled off, transforming his watch into a repluser.
"The readings are identical to the partials from the Elrics' arrival, boss. It will open in approximately five seconds exactly over the array. There's no way of knowing who's coming."
"Everybody get ready."
"You think it's Ed?"
"He wouldn't come back this soon."
"I've got a bad feeling about—"
The sky split open and a short-haired, red-clad figure landed like a cat and came up yelling.
"Truth, you son of a bitch! Take me back! We had a fucking deal!"
"Kid, what happened?" Tony asked incredulously, lowering his gauntleted hand.
"Two tickets! Two tickets back to Amestris, he said! How was I supposed to know he was counting the fucking criminal! You're a fucking cheat, Truth! You hear me, asshole?!"
"Elric, slow down," Natasha ordered. "What happened?"
"When I made the deal, he said I'd get two tickets back to Amestris. Two tickets!"
"One short, counting Roswell," Steve concluded, running a hand through his hair.
"I figured he'd just kill him, the bastard had already crossed Truth once, but noooo, 'I don't interfere with the nature of worlds, Mr. Alchemist.' Like hell you don't, Truth!"
"Ed—Ed!" Tony raised his voice as Ed continued to yell at the sky. "How are you going to get home?"
The alchemist spun around to face Tony, his coat swirling behind him. He clutched his hair with both hands, his face panicked.
"I have no idea."
However many years ago I started this story, I put that line in about 'two tickets' and knew how this was going to end, but I still wasn't prepared. Still, Truth's too much of a jackass to let Ed off that easily and how could I resist the possibility of a Metal Arm Club? No promises on the rapidity of the sequel, but there will be one eventually, with parallel story lines of Steve and Ed looking for Bucky in Romania and Al's adventures back in Amestris, probably with Mustang, because Mustang's great.
Thanks for waiting an ungodly length of time for this, and let me know how you like it!