Notes: This is it. Just shy of a year after the first chapter went up, Conversion is finished. It's...kind of odd. This is the first story on this scale I've completed, and I kind of miss it already, though, at the same time, it's one heck of an accomplishment.
Eternal love and gratitude to my readers, especially those of you who have been with me since the beginning. I met some awesome people because of this fic. I'm going to reply to all comments on this chapter, so if you have something to say or questions to ask, now's the time to do it.
A special thanks to Staehli, for catching and fixing my slip-ups over Roy's eyepatch, my many misplaces commas, and for keeping me from posting this chapter before it was ready.
More notes at the end.
February 10th, 1927
He's gone to say his goodbyes. He didn't want to, and if I were kinder I might have spared him the pain of separation, but they deserve to know. To hear it from him. I might be the only one who's a wreck, but they all love him in their own ways.
This is the last entry I'll write, I can feel it in my bones. There's a sense of finality in the room today, this place where Edward and I have spent so much time together.
Ed fell asleep in front of the fire last night, and I couldn't bring myself to take him to bed. Instead, I sat up all night and watched him sleep, trying to memorize every detail, the lines of his face, the fall of his hair, the steady rise and fall of his chest. I can't imagine how this will seem to you, but if you've ever been in love, then you might understand what I mean.
He still doesn't know how I feel. I didn't want to tell him, because I didn't want to cause any undue strain. I think, though, that I'll have to be selfish. The idea of letting him go without at least telling him how I feel about him seems wrong somehow. I'm not sure if I'm that brave, though. So I'll end this with something for him.
Take care of him.
Tucked between the pages after the last entry was a small, heavily creased note.
Take the opportunities life gives; don't let them pass you by.
Tell those you love that you love them while you can.
Know that I will never, never forget you; that you are more important to me than I was willing to admit.
I love you more than I've ever loved anyone, and I pray that you find happiness.
Edward studied the array carefully, lips moving silently as golden eyes traced carefully drawn lines, searching for problems or mistakes. It had taken them a little less than a week to make the necessary adjustments, plus a few tweaks that would -hopefully- reduce the fatigue and prevent them from tossing up their lunch like Ed had the first time. A second check, a third, and Edward was satisfied. A giddy grin curled his lips and he sat back on his heels, resting arms on knees. "It's ready," he said, looking up at Alphonse.
"It's ready," Al agreed, mirroring his grin.
A small stack of letters sat beside the array, each addressed in Alphonse's neat hand. Letters of explanation, of goodbye, to all the important people in their lives. His smile faded and he glanced back at his brother. "Are you sure?" he asked, for what was probably the thousandth time. He couldn't shake the fear that some day, Al would regret his choice. That some day, regret would breed resentment and Alphonse might never forgive him.
"I'm sure," Al replied, tone as firm as it had been every time the question was asked.
Ed nodded. He knew that Al had thought things through, that the decision was hardly impulsive, but he couldn't quite suppress the urge to constantly reassure himself that his brother wasn't having second thoughts. With a yawn and a stretch, Edward stood, stuffing his hands into his pockets and staring at the array on the piece of paper between them. The array was finished, letters written. The only thing left now was to tell Roy.
He would have preferred a letter in his case too; Ed was shit for goodbyes, and the whole thing was an uncomfortable echo of the parting two months before. Unfortunately, they needed Roy to perform the transmutation, and the man really deserved more than a letter.
"Are we ready to ask the general?" Al asked, getting to his feet.
"I suppose that's all that's left, isn't it?" Ed replied, anxiety and anticipation making an impressive knot of his insides. Al didn't reply, just offered him an encouraging smile and after a moment, Ed slipped out of the room, his brother trailing behind.
They found Roy dozing on the couch, she-Ed happily curled up on his chest. Edward reached over and gave her a scratch behind the ear, earning him a loud purr and a few contented blinks, then poked Roy. "Is anyone dying?" The general asked without opening his eye.
A yawn. "Then go away."
Poke. "I need to talk to you about something."
"Death, destruction, emergency of any kind? No? Go away."
Poke. "I'm serious!"
"I don't consider being out of ham an emergency."
"I'm going back, you ass!" Ed snapped.
Roy started, half-sitting and dumping the cat into his lap in the process. He stared at Ed. "What?"
"I'm going back," Ed repeated, irritated that he'd been goaded into blurting it out like that. Roy didn't have to ask where; his sober expression said that he knew. "Al is coming with me."
Roy's gaze flicked over Ed's shoulder, then back. "You're sure?"
"We're sure," Al said, stepping forward and sliding his hand into Edward's in silent support. Edward squeezed it in thanks. He'd been dreading this conversation since they had decided to go back, but had insisted that it be him. It just felt like he should be the one to tell the general.
"Is it possible?"
"If you'll help us, yes."
Roy stared at him for a long, silent moment. Finally, finally he sighed and nodded. "If that's what you want, I'll do whatever I can."
A sharp knock at the study door and Roy looked up, pulling off his glasses and rubbing his eyes, grateful for the distraction. He was going cross-eyed trying to sort out the mess one of his business partners had dumped on him. "Come in."
The door clicked open and Evan stepped halfway inside. "I'm sorry to disturb you. If you're busy, it can wait."
"Please, disturb me before I go crazy," Roy said, waving the old man into the room. Evan was holding a neatly folded bit of cloth. Kara had probably torn one of her dresses again; the kid was hard on clothes.
"I found this in the laundry," Evan said, passing it over, and Roy realized it wasn't one of his niece's dresses. "I wasn't sure if I should throw it out or not."
Roy unfolded it slowly, breath catching in his throat. It was a plain off-white shirt, one cuff frayed from constantly catching in a metal wrist. Edward. The sudden reminder of the younger man hurt; two months of separation did little to dull the pain. He knew he should tell Evan to get rid of it. The shirt may have been a startling reminder of his loss, but it was still just a shirt. Throw it out, or pack it away in storage with the rest of belongings that Ed had left behind.
"I'll take care of it," he said instead. There was understanding in the other man's eyes, and he nodded and slipped from the room without a word.
Sighing heavily, Roy leaned back into his chair, feeling very tired and very old. He knew that holding on to these remnants of Ed was unhealthy, that he needed to focus on moving on with his life, but that was easier said than done. It was hard to move on when every time he slept he dreamt of him; when every time he saw long blond hair his heart would stop before his head realized it wasn't Ed.
Roy did his best to distract himself from his thoughts, working more and sleeping less; spending as little time alone as he could. His efforts were only half successful, but he didn't know what else to do. Logically, he knew he had to let Ed go, but in his heart he still didn't want to.
Carefully, he refolded the shirt, setting it on his lap and smoothing out the wrinkles. Really, that was what it came down to. He wasn't ready to let him go yet. The kind of love Roy felt for Edward was the kind of love he hadn't thought really existed. Consuming and painful and utterly irrational. Even now, even after months apart, it was still a nearly physical ache.
Michael would have laughed, long and hard if he had still been alive to see his brother in such a state. They were always close, but Roy was a pragmatist where Michael was the romantic. He could wax poetic about Caroline for hours, and Roy would just shake his head and roll his eyes and tell the younger man that he had his head in the clouds. He was happy that his brother was happy, of course, he just didn't quite understand it.
Then suddenly Ed waltzed into his life, and all the things Michael had said began to make a lot more sense. He felt a twinge of sorrow. Mike would have liked Ed, a lot, though Roy couldn't say what he would have thought of his brother falling in love with another man. It was remarkable how much his life had changed in such a short time; he'd lost a brother and gained a daughter, had fallen in love with a man from another world and lost him forever.
Roy smoothed his hands over plain fabric again, then carefully set the shirt aside, turning back to the pile of papers on his desk. He slid his glasses back into place and picked up his pen. He really couldn't afford to spend his time woolgathering when he had to sort this out or lose a great deal of money in the process.
So many things had changed, but there were some things that never would.
Edward relaxed visibly as soon as he agreed. Roy wondered if Ed actually thought he'd be able to say no. "Thank you," he said, the words heartfelt.
Roy checked a sigh and merely nodded, dropping the cat onto the floor and standing. He had been half-expecting it really, and it was probably better that it happened now, before things between Ed and himself went any further than one night and tentative feelings. "When?" he asked.
The brothers exchanged a look before Al replied, "As soon as you're ready. We've already made all the preparations."
They certainly weren't giving him much time to make his peace with the idea, were they? Roy regarded them both carefully. It wasn't about him at all, he knew that. It was about Ed and it was about Al, and if any two people deserved happiness after all they had endured, it was those two. If this was what they chose for that happiness, who was he to say no? "I suppose there's no point in putting it off, then." He raised a hand to forestall whatever it was Ed was going to say. "But I want to talk to you first."
Edward seemed surprised, then nervous, but he nodded. He let the other alchemist into the study and shut the door behind them. Ed hovered near the door, uncertain, and Roy went over to his desk and picked up the plain journal resting under a pile of paperwork. He flipped to a page near the back, pulling out a small, folded piece of paper. He leaned against the desk for a moment, staring down at the book in his hands. At least he knew that the man who had written it would take care of Ed.
He looked up, finding golden eyes. "I would have been whatever you needed me to be," he said softly. Roy had always had a soft spot for Ed, and now he was half in love with him and a little bitter that he had lost his chance before he'd even had it.
"I know," Edward said, expression softening. "And I probably would have let you, but...it wouldn't have been right." He sighed. "I'm sorry I let things go as far as they did, it wasn't fair."
"You don't have to apologize, I'm not angry with you." Roy was more irritated with the situation than he was with Edward. He could hardly blame him for wanting to go back to the man he loved. It was even a bit flattering, all things considered. He shrugged and smiled slightly. "If things had been different, it might have been me."
Edward studied Roy closely for a moment. "If things had been different," he agreed. He returned Roy's smile, "Maybe you should have made a move before I vanished for all those years." The light tone seemed forced, and Roy got the feeling that Ed was only half-joking.
He snorted. "You were sixteen the last time I saw you, I'm not a pedophile, you know."
They shared moment of amusement before Roy passed over the note he held. "I found it in the journal," he explained when Ed shot him a puzzled look.
Roy watched the play of emotions over Edward's face as he unfolded the note and read it. Curiosity, surprise, heartbreak, and finally a furious longing. "Why-" Ed's voice broke on the word, and he coughed and began again. "Why didn't you show me before?"
"I didn't want to make things harder on you than they already were. You already knew how he felt for you, and I was afraid a reminder might just make things worse." That was the truth, though Roy admitted privately that selfishness might have played a part in the decision to keep the note from Edward.
Ed didn't reply, and Roy waited a few minutes before he spoke again, giving Edward time to get a grip on his emotions. "Are you ready to do this?"
Folding the note carefully and sticking it in his pocket, Edward nodded. The younger man took a step forward and flung his arms around Roy, hugging him tightly. Startled, Roy simply stood there a moment, before returning the embrace. "Thank you," Ed said as he released him, looking slightly embarrassed.
Indulging in impulse, Roy leaned down and rested his forehead against Edward's. "You're welcome."
"But I don't want to go to bed!" Kara whined sleepily from his arms, trying unsuccessfully to keep her eyes open.
"That's just too bad," Roy replied with a smile, shifting her weight slightly and opening the door to her bedroom. "Would you rather sleep on the sofa all night?"
"Wasn't sleeping," she protested, "I was resting my eyes."
Roy snorted a laugh. She had to have gotten that from Liam. It was his favorite excuse when he got caught during one of his naps. "Either way, it's past your bedtime."
An indistinct mumble was all he received as he navigated the maze of toys to her bed, careful to avoid tripping on something and sending them both flying. He laid her down and pulled the thick blankets over her. She grabbed his sleeve and gave it a weak tug. "Mop," she demanded with a yawn.
Oh, right. He cast around for the stuffed dog Ed had given her - named 'Mop' for reasons no one could quite understand- finding it mostly hidden beneath a pillow. He passed it over and she clutched it with another sleepy mumble. Ever since Ed had left, she had refused to sleep without it.
He laid a hand on soft black hair. Michael had taken more after their father, tall and fair-haired, and his daughter's startling resemblance to his brother had raised more than a few eyebrows and set tongues wagging. The rumors were utterly unfounded of course. They simply both bore a striking resemblance to Roy's mother. Kara more than him, really, and if she didn't grow up to be the spitting image of her grandmother, Roy would be very, very surprised.
Stroking the hair beneath his hand, Roy leaned down and kissed the sleeping girl on the forehead and stood. Somewhere along the way, once he had gotten past the initial panic of finding himself very suddenly a parent, she had become more daughter to him than niece. His eyes found Mop, still being clutched tightly, and he smiled. Edward had really had a way with her. He would make a good father.
Roy shut his eyes against the thought. All paths seemed to lead to Ed today. Would he get married, have children of his own? It seemed likely, after all, that was how things usually worked. Unbidden, the image of Edward marrying some faceless woman popped into his mind and Roy felt suddenly ill.
It had never really struck home for him until that moment. Edward was gone. He was home, probably moving on with life in a way Roy didn't seem to be able to. Chances were that he would meet someone, that he would fall in love. He was still young, after all.
Would he really begrudge Edward love because he couldn't let him go?
No. No, he wouldn't. He didn't want Edward to be as miserable as he was. He wanted the younger man to be happy, however he managed it. That certainty didn't make the notion any easier to stomach.
Roy crept from the room, heart heavy as he closed the door behind him. He leaned against the wood for a moment, before he sighed and turned down the hall towards his own room.
Tonight, perhaps he would find solace in the dreams.
Roy set the letters carefully to one side, promising to have them delivered to the intended recipients. He looked up and caught Edward's eyes, the weight of everything that might have been hanging between them.
Ed nodded once, slowly.
Roy offered a silent farewell and placed his hands on the array.
With a weariness that was part physical and part mental, Roy peeled of his clothing and dropped it onto the floor. He found his pajamas in the dark and pulled on the pants, dropping heavily onto the bed as a wave of dizziness struck. He sat still, head in hands, and waited for it to pass. He must be more tired than he had realized.
Just as he stood he was slammed by a fierce headache that dropped him back to the bed. The pain was blinding and intense; it felt like an eternity before it began to ebb. Roy rubbed his temples with the heels of his hands, wondering what was wrong on earth was-
He shut off mid-thought, heart stopping. There was a clear, familiar image in his mind; sharp as any photograph. An array. The image Ed had drilled into him, the one that his counterpart in that other world would need to activate in order for Ed to go home.
Roy was moving before he realized it, sprinting down the hall and thundering up the stairs, unwilling to even consider the image could be nothing more than the production of a tired mind. He threw open the door to the workroom he hadn't been inside in over a month, slamming into the desk in his haste. He fumbled with the oil lamp, lighting it with trembling fingers.
Roy tore open the drawers, throwing the contents haphazardly, searching for the chalk he knew had to be there. It was taking too long, too long, but he finally found what he was looking for and dropped to his knees; dredging up everything Edward had ever taught him as he traced the array as quickly and carefully as he could onto the floor.
He didn't think, didn't hesitate. As soon as he connected the last line he slammed his hands down and prayed.
A surge of energy, a gut-deep pull, and the world moved sideways. Between one breath and the next, he found himself floating in a sea of light that was both peaceful and frightening, a heavy, looming presence behind him that he knew he wasn't meant to see. One heartbeat, another, and he was no longer alone.
He stared at the man that was so much like him but not. His jaw worked, but his voice seemed to have left him.
The other studied him for a long moment, a painful eternity before he said, "He's coming home." A small smile, an offered hand.
Roy wanted to cry, reaching out and grasped the hand like a lifeline. "Thank you."
"Don't make me regret it."
Edward reached out and took Al's hand, lacing his fingers through his brother's and closed his eyes against the bright light.
The sudden light left Roy momentarily blinded, blinking hard and trying desperately to see. There was silence, and for a horrified moment he thought nothing had happened, but then he heard it; the rustle of movement, a groan.
His vision began to clear, and he saw an indistinct lump lying in the middle of the array.
That voice forced Ed to fight his way through the disorientation, noting in a distant, analytical part of his mind that he didn't feel half as sick this time. Rolling onto his knees, it took a moment for Ed to find the man sitting outside of the array. "Roy," he croaked, voice rough, and he stumbled to his feet and lurched over to the other man, throwing himself into his arms.
He buried his face in Roy's neck as the man held him tightly and whispered, "Edward...Edward," over and over, the name a prayer, a benediction that made Ed want to cry.
"I love you," he choked around a too-tight throat, and suddenly he was crying and he didn't care. "I love you," he repeated, the words pouring from him. "I'm sorry, I missed you, I missed you so much and I am so sorry I left."
Hands on his hair, his face, and Roy was kissing him; wet and messy because Roy was crying too. Ed clung to him, a little shocked by the intensity of his own emotion, and wondering in a distant sort of way where he had kept it all. "I love you too," Roy whispered against his lips.
A sniffle from behind them, and suddenly Ed remembered his brother. He turned, reluctant to let go of Roy, and saw Al sitting on the floor. He sniffled again and rubbed his eyes, looking a little choked up and a lot embarrassed. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt," he said in a small voice.
Ed scrubbed his eyes viciously and took a deep breath, trying to get a hold on his emotions. He stood and helped Roy to his feet, before he went over to Al and did the same for him. As soon as Alphonse was on his feet Ed hugged him fiercely. "Thank you," he whispered.
Al hugged him back. "I'm just glad to see you so happy," came the quiet reply.
Ed put his hands on Al's shoulders and steered him towards Roy, still a bit wobbly on his feet. Dark eyes found his and for a second Ed forgot what he was going to say. He cleared his throat, tried only half-successfully to wipe the grin off of his face, and said, "This is my brother, Alphonse. Al, this is Roy."
Al held out a hand a bit shyly, looking a little overwhelmed. Ed couldn't really blame him. Roy took the offered hand and smiled. "It's nice to finally meet you."
"Yeah," Al returned the smile.
Amused eyes slid back to Edward. "I thought he was supposed to be your little brother."
Ed laughed a little unsteadily and he was back in Roy's arms. "Screw you," he muttered against the soft skin of taller man's neck.
There was a loud roar and suddenly Liam leaped through the door, wielding a cast-iron skilled like a bat. He faltered, lowering the skillet. "Roy?" he said, uncertain. "I thought-Ed!" The skillet crashed to the floor with a loud clang, missing the man's foot by less than an inch. Ed grinned when Liam grabbed him and shook him a little. "Where the bloody hell did you come from?" he demanded, hugging Edward tightly and then thrusting him back for a good long look. "I thought I saw lightning, and then I heard voices and I thought we were being robbed for God's sake! It's good to see you aga- who are you?" This last was directed at Al, who was watching the whole scene wide-eyed.
"That's my brother, Alphonse," Ed said, extricating himself from the overexcited Irishman's grip.
Liam planted his hands on his hips, looking absolutely delighted. "Is that so? Well, I'll be! Nice to meet you boy, nice to meet you! Oh!" He poked his head out the door and bellowed down the hall, "Coast is clear, Em! It's just Ed!"
"Dead!?" came the horrified reply.
"Not dead!" he shouted, "ED! Edward!"
"ED!" a young voice shrieked, and Edward braced himself at the quick thumping of short legs, Kara bursting around the corner a moment later and flinging herself at him. He picked her up and hugged her while the little girl wailed, "You came back! You came back! I knew you would! Mop said so!"
"I'm back for good this time," Ed said, finding Roy's eyes over her head, the words as much for him as the girl in his arms. "I'm never leaving again."
She sniffled. "Promise."
"I swear," he replied solemnly.
"Oh, Edward!" Emily warbled from the doorway, Evan beside her. She rushed over when he looked up and hugged him around the little girl in his arms. She stepped back, blinking rapidly and dabbing at her eyes with her sleeve. "I can't believe you're back, we missed having you around!" She hugged him again, and Ed shifted Kara so he could return the embrace. "But," she looked around, baffled. "How did you get in? Did you climb through the window?"
Ed heard Roy snort a laugh and shot him a glare. "It's, uh, a long story. I didn't mean to cause an uproar in the middle of the night." He hadn't realized there was a time difference between the two places. It had been early evening when he left, but it appeared to be much later here.
"It's quite all right, dear. We're just happy to have you back." She paused, seeing Alphonse for the first time. "Is this your brother? It must be!" She answered before Ed could. "I can see the family resemblance." She released Ed and moved over to Al, enveloping the startled boy in a hug. "Lovely to meet you, dear. I'm so glad Edward decided to bring you back here, so glad."
Emily released him with a bright smile, not the least bit concerned when Al just stared at her, seemingly at a loss for words. "That's enough standing around in this drafty old closet, let's go downstairs. You boys look like you need to sit down, I know I certainly do after the scare you gave us."
Alphonse moved closer, slipping his hand into Ed's as Emily herded them towards the door. She paused briefly to admonish Roy in an undertone about his state of undress, and Kara was hiding in his shoulder, regarding Al with the same shy curiosity that had greeted Ed when they first met. Ed stifled a grin, happy at the familiarity of it all.
He paused as they passed Evan, looking up at the stately old man, not entirely sure of his welcome. It was hard to tell what the other man was thinking at the best of times, his current expression carefully neutral. They stared at each other for the space of a heartbeat, before Evan sighed and relented. "Welcome home."
Edward started awake, blinking slowly and staring in bleary confusion. There was a weight against his legs and hip, his flesh leg suffering from that strange, dead numbness limbs got when proper circulation was nothing but a memory. Feeling incredibly lethargic and not particularly rested, Ed lifted his head, craning his neck over his should to see what was wrong with his leg.
Alphonse was draped over the bottom half of his body, face wedged between the small of Ed's back and the sofa, snoring softly.
Well, that explained that.
It took a few more moments of sleepy contemplation for him to remember exactly whose sofa he was sleeping on. Ed's head shot up a second time, and only Alphonse kept him from leaping up. He scanned the room, but it looked like he and Al were the only ones there. Slowly, careful not to wake him, Ed slid out from underneath his brother, swinging a rubbery and unresponsive leg over the edge as he sat up.
Al snorted and shifted. The snoring stopped, and Ed waited, but it didn't seem like his brother was going to wake. Ed stood a little unsteadily, wobbling dangerously at the rush of prickly sensation in his leg. Reaching over, he grabbed the blanket tangled in Al's feet and pulled it up over his shoulders before hobbling out of the room, swearing under his breath at his leg.
The house was filled with weak, grey light; the grandfather clock in hallway read a quarter past six. Which meant that Roy would probably already be in the informal dining room with his paper and coffee. Unless he was still sleeping after the late night everyone had, but Roy always seemed to be an early riser no matter how late he went to sleep.
The rustle of a newspaper confirmed his guess, and Ed stepped inside quietly, leaning against the doorframe and taking in the sight.
Roy was already washed and dressed, damp hair tied neatly back and reading glasses perched on his nose. He hadn't noticed Edward yet, taking an absent sip of coffee as he frowned slightly at whatever he was reading. It was strange how happy it made him just watching Roy read. It was a scene he had thought he'd never see again.
It sort of drove home the fact that he was really back. That he was exactly where he wanted to be, and that his little brother was asleep in the other room instead of a world away. Ed shifted slightly, and Roy looked up at the sound, smiling when he saw who it was. "Morning," Ed greeted, finding a chair.
"Good morning," Roy said, folding his newspaper and pulling off his glasses. Resting chin on hand, he regarded Edward for a long, silent moment before he spoke. "When I woke up, I thought it was just a dream. Then I came down and saw you and your brother asleep right where I left you, and I realized that it was real." Roy reached out, reverent fingers tracing down his cheek, along his jaw, and Edward leaned into the touch. "I thought I'd never see you again."
"I'm here," Ed replied softly.
Roy's calm facade fractured just a bit, and Edward realized that no matter how miserable he might have been, the time they spent apart had been much, much harder on Roy. "I don't want to lose you again. I don't think I could take it."
Edward captured his hand and squeezed reassuringly. "I love you," he said, fierce. "I'm not going anywhere unless forcibly removed, and -let's be honest- I could kick your ass."
Roy chuckled, some of the tension draining out of him. "I'm not going to dispute that." He paused, shifting and drawing Ed's hand to his lips, brushing a kiss across the knuckles. "I love you, too."
Ed smiled, a little embarrassed, but mostly pleased. He took his hand back, swiping Roy's coffee in the process and hiding what he was certain was a moronic grin behind the mug. He had his little brother and he was madly in love with the man across the table. Beyond that, there was nothing that Edward really wanted.
For the first time in a very long time, he was no longer seeking.
He had finally found everything he was looking for.
Further notes: I put together a soundtrack for Conversion for those of you who would like to take a peek. You can find the link in my profile.
There will be at least four Conversion related side stories in the near future (two of which are already written), for those of you who are interested in them, I suggest you put my story 'Midnight' on alert, since they'll all be posted there.
It's been fun guys, and thanks to everyone who read, reviewed, fan arted and encouraged. You all rock my socks.