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Earthquake

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He had been living in this world more than one year now.

At first it was really hard. The only person that ever understood what he was saying was his brother. Only, thanks to him, Al was able to relatively master German in less than three months.

After that, the situation began to gradually get better. Eventually they both found places that kept them busy and distracted them from their thoughts. And because they were Elrics, naturally they both buried themselves within the science of this world.

Ed had contacted some acquaintances their dad managed to befriend while he lived there and found a job at a chemistry laboratory in Munich.

Al ended up studying medicine and pharmaceutical practice. At first he wanted to get a job, but the money Ed earned was enough for both of them and so he convinced Al to enrol at Munich University. [1]

Their hunger for knowledge pushed them deeper and deeper into new research topics, but somehow they always found a way back to their queen of sciences. His studies gave Al a few very interesting ideas which could have been applied in alchemic medicine. During some evenings, the brothers exchanged and discussed their wild theories. At least for a small moment they enclosed themselves in alchemy, the science that was foreign to this world, yet still so close to their hearts.

This world, however, never managed to really become Al's home, and he was pretty sure that same applied for his brother, even if Ed lived here for more than 3 years.

Al knew him best, and for him it was impossible not to see it in Ed's golden eyes. The wish to return back home, to return to people that were their friends and their family... to their beloved ones.

The dream that reminded itself whenever one of the brothers met a familiar face of their world…

Deep inside, Al was happy that he never came across this world's version of Winry. He didn't want to be reminded of what he lost and what he left behind. He missed her, but at the same time was sure that he would go nuts if he ever saw her.

Like his brother did.

It took almost two weeks to bring back Ed from his depression, after meeting the black-haired man. The man's hairstyle was different, but everything else was exactly the same as Colonel Mustang, except for his personality.

Al knew why he never wanted to meet Winry's double. One could never be sure what this world had in store for somebody. The moment when someone stopped looking for all the similarities and painfully noticed the differences, couldn't be worth all of the minutes, hours, or if you ended up being really lucky, days of false fantasies. He saw it in what happened to Ed.

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Al shut his eyes tightly to stop his train of thoughts. He dragged his left hand through his hair and leaned against the back of his black chair, opening his eyes and directing them toward the window. For a few minutes he stared at the dirty red and brown roofs and greying skies, leaving his mind to wander in purposeless circles. A small, rational part of his brain was nudging him and reminding him that he was supposed to work on his damn essay rather than playing theoretical games of connecting this world's medicine with the alchemy of his world.

He wasn't paying attention to the work itself. His concentration was drawn to every small thing that seemed interesting. His brain quickly changed it into important alchemic knowledge and he ended up constructing transmutation circles in his head, even sketching them on his research papers. Pages littered with arrays, that could only work in theory, because of earth's lack of alchemical power.

Al sighed and tore his gaze away from the foggy window. If he wanted to finish at least one third of his essay today, he needed to get started on it immediately.

He again looked down at his notes and after half of the first page he realized that they were useless.

The pages were full of his own musings, both medical and alchemical. German, Latin and Amestrian all fused together. He was absolutely lost in the mess his sub-consciousness created.

He might as well start from scratch again, this time with real and full concentration. He could maybe even use some books as help. Nobody ever said that he had to do everything with his own knowledge and at the same time, a little repeating of Latin terms may help.

Al rose from his chair, rolled his aching shoulders a few times and arched his back to crack his stiff spine.

The Elrics loved their personal library. In the short amount of time they had to spend in this world, they were able to create an impressive collection of books, the latest prints next to old ones, a few extremely rare volumes, even unique classics. Both brothers loved them and were taking good care of them. [2]

They were all organized in a large massive wooden bookshelf, which was proudly decorating almost the entire wall in the living room.

Al took out his Latin textbook. He was about to get back to work when he noticed the title of an unfamiliar book next to an empty space on one of the shelves. He cocked his head to the side as he read its name on the spine.

' Ancient Sciences, R. Maddison'

Edward probably recently bought it and Al hadn't had a chance to look at it yet.

Guiltily, he looked at the thick tome in his hands before tugging it under an arm and pulled out the newest member of their collection.

'Just a quick peek inside.' Al told himself, knowing somewhere deeply inside how unbelievable the lie sounded, even to him.

For a few minutes he was only absently flipping through the pages and individual chapters; The Geometry of Egypt, Babylonian mathematics and Greek astronomy. Even that quick inspection of pages made Al excited to read the whole thing.

He continued through the book, until his hands lead him to another chapter.

Alchemy.

It appeared to be the thickest part of the book and the author stated in the first paragraph that it was his personal favourite. By the end of the page, the author's words proved to be true. Not only that, the man must have been obsessed with it, as it was one of the best collection of alchemy information Al ever read on earth. [3]

The young man sank to the floor and sat down, the book in his lap. His eyes practically sparkled with the amount of information about the alchemical history of this side of the gate.

Even if there were some mistakes, few of them fatal, most of his theories were so close to the truth that Al was almost purring in the familiarity of it. 

 He was so focused on the book, he didn't even notice when the ground began to shake underneath him. However, his mind did register the distant clinking of glass, which was coming from the kitchen.

The moment Al started to wander about its source, the sound stopped. His brows lowered questioningly and he looked around the flat.

"Maybe it was only my imagination…" Al hardly had enough time to finish his sentence when ground shook violently.

The rattling, clinking and deep moaning of moving ground mixed together and created a sonata of destruction.

Al stood up from the floor. The book in his lap was abandoned to fall on the floor and was soon followed by objects from all around the room. An ugly vase, left behind by the previous tenant, glasses and books from behind him. They moved of their own accord, shaken down from the edges of the furniture.

Get under the table! Al remembered little about safety during earthquakes.

He moved forward, trying to keep his balance on the shaking floor. After two small steps forward, Earth betrayed him and suddenly lurched, knocking him to the floor.

A loud cracking sound roared behind him. He turned around and his eyes widened. The young man caught only a glimpse of their monstrous bookcase moving toward him... Or rather, it falling directly at him.

He heard a loud crunching, felt the hard impact of the heavy wood on his body and darkness followed.

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Everything felt wrong.

The surface under him was too rough and hard for it to be a bed. The air was filled with dust and a metallic stench. His limbs and muscles screamed from pain with every move he made.

And why was someone shaking him? Didn't they know that every small move made a burning pain erupt up his leg?

Al reluctantly opened his eyes.

There was no one.

Funny! He could swear that just seconds ago someone moved him. If there wasn't anybody trying to wake him, of course he can still sleep some more, right?

...

And there it was again, someone shaking him... Or, was it the ground under him?

Yes, that must be it. An earthquake! He needed to hide under the table!

Al struggled to move his hands closer to his chest and tried to push himself forward. He gasped in pain, which was coming from his leg and he stopped pushing. An excruciating humming of pain from his nerves helped to clear his mind and got part of it back into gear.

An earthquake started and he hadn't had time to hide. Something was falling on him. Something big and hard... Was it... their bookcase? Yes, that's what happened! And it was pinning him to the floor right now.

He took a few breaths through his nose, to steady himself and cast his gaze down to look at his lower body. The air was filled with dust and his figure was disappearing under a piece of the furniture's shadow, but he was able to faintly see his legs down to his knees.

Thankfully, the shelf was stopped in its fall by what was left of the small end table with the phone, and only the lowest part of the shelf was connecting with Al's body.

It looked like he wouldn't be able to get out of this on his own. He had no chance to lift the shelf from his position on floor. The phone was smashed to pieces everywhere and the walls were too thick for anybody to hear through. Ignoring this fact, Al shouted his lungs out, screaming for help.

Minutes ticked by, but no one came.

Al put his palms against the floor, lifted his body a few centimetres above the ground, his lower back touching the wood above him, and pressed up with all the force left in him. The wood moaned faintly, but didn't move an inch.

Al's weak body limply fell onto the ground. He felt something wet on his right cheek. When he turned his head down, a thick, crimson coloured liquid was spilled under him. It took a second for Al to realize where it came from and when he touched back of head, his palm was covered in blood. A wave of panic washed over the blond, his vision becoming blurred.

Another few minutes passed, within which Al unsuccessfully tried to call for help. He was able to hear the sirens of fire trucks and ambulances, meaning that rescue actions had already begun. However, who knew how much time he had left before collapsing? The red puddle under his head was quickly getting bigger and the hand pressed to the cut on the back of his head wasn't helping at all.

It was getting hard to keep his breathing steady. Through Al's mind flashed a thought that if he didn’t calm down soon and went into shock, he could die here. He squeezed his eyes shut tightly and tried to regulate his breathing.

As the ground started vibrating once again, a spike of pain resonated from his captured leg. It focused him up and made him realize that he was simply giving up there. That was just unacceptable.

I can't die here... I can't leave Ed alone in this world. Not again. Not after what he did for me. How he fought for years, risked his life every single day... Not here!

His body moved on its own, guided by old, half-forgotten, instincts.

He pushed himself up, supporting his weight on his elbows and clapped his hands together...

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Ed pressed the buttons one more time, hoping that maybe this time he will be lucky and will finally hear the dial tone. All the lines were, not surprisingly, busy at the moment and he wasn't able to connect with their flat to check and see if Alphonse was alright.

After few seconds Ed gave up and slammed the receiver back onto its cradle.

The tremors had started almost an hour ago and ever since the seismic waves calmed down, he was trying his luck with the phone.

He knew that Al was alright, but deep inside he had a strange feeling of something bad happening. It was ridiculous to listen to it, but he needed to make sure.

The first news they got from the radio announced the intensity of this quake as a VII on Mercalli scale. Some buildings were slightly damaged by the first wave. Minor aftershocks were then appearing for about fifteen minutes and it all ended with the last wave, which died down abruptly. Reports about the dead and injured were yet to appear.

Until then, everybody could worry about the damages right in front of them. In Ed's case it meant cleaning all the broken, spilled samples before leaving. Thankfully, today he wasn't using anything explosive, but the risks of some damage were still high, until they got rid of any volatile substances. Until then, he couldn’t leave, but with a small bit of luck, he would be done in twenty minutes.

Just as Edward walked into the laboratory and was to start collecting glass shards, he heard the faint sound of a ringing phone coming from the small, attached office.

Immediately, Ed abandoned his work and rushed after the ringing sound. Leaning over the desk, he reached for the receiver and pressed it to his ear. "Alphonse?"

"Brother! Are you alright? I've been trying to call for about five minutes, but all lines were overloaded. I was scared that something might have happened to you." The worried voice of his little brother gushed from the other side, relieving so much of Ed's worry.

"Yes, I'm perfectly alright. A few things broke here, but none of them were dangerous. And you?"

"Um... I will need a ride to the hospital later. My leg is kind of broken. Actually, I can see my own bone – pretty disgusting! ... Oh, and I may have a concussion. Everything seems slightly blurred and the way to the kitchen to get the phone was adventurous in itself. Well...Either the concussion is causing this, or those painkillers are working pretty fast and I'm drugged."

Ed's eyes widened. It was not the answer he expected. "What? W-what happened?"

"That's not important now..." Al said breathlessly. "Ed, it worked! I might have found a way home!"

The older Elric was left speechless. After few seconds his lips moved in an amazed whisper. "How?"

"During the earthquake, the wall in the living room cracked – there is gash almost five centimetres wide, actually. Because of it the bookshelf fell on me. It caught only my leg, but after waking up, I panicked seeing blood under me. I was pinned to the floor for over ten minutes before I managed to get out."

"The bookshelf fell on you? How did you get out? Did someone help you?" Ed snapped out of his trance at the mention of Al's injury, his protective, older brother inside taking control.

Al just chuckled into the phone gently. "No."

"Did you really...? Did alchemy really... work?"

"Just hurry back home and I will explain my theory to you. You won't believe me until you see on your own, will you?" Ed could hear the wide, lazy smile in Al's voice.

"Home?" Ed asked pleadingly, swallowing back a sob that was trying to get out at the memory of Amestris. "I'm on my way! Just don't fall asleep in the meantime. Head injuries can be tricky. I'm speaking from my own experience." The young man waited for a positive reply from other side and slammed the phone onto its cradle, cutting the line with his brother and hurrying to finish his work.

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The front door was unlocked and opened. Al raised his head from the book in front of him and listened, the panicked voice of his brother came seconds later. "Alphonse?!"

"I'm here in the living room!" He called back.

Ed appeared in the doorway and his face paled as he took in the situation in the room. A few objects lay broken on the floor, accompanied by many books lying piled under the fallen shelves. Above it was a big crack in the wall which was going all the way from the ceiling to the floor, like a bolt cutting the skies. What took Ed's breath away, however, lay under the other end of the bookshelf.

From the floor stuck up a big wooden hand, with signs of alchemy all over it and was supporting the weight of the broken bookshelf.

"It really worked!" Ed said, still amazed. Suddenly Ed had the urge to try it as well. He clapped his hands together and slapped them onto the floor, but no response came. No sudden rush of energy. There wasn't any light or electricity tingling on the tips of his fingers and so Ed turned toward his younger brother for an answer.

"How..?"

"When you think about it, it's actually really simple." Al was sitting on the armchair at the other end of the living room with piles of books surrounding him. He turned slightly toward Ed, the older blond was now able to see the thick patch of dried blood in Al's hair. He gasped, and in a heartbeat was beside him, checking his head and effectively silencing Al's protests.

"Brother, it really is nothing. I already examined it. It isn't deep, nor is there any dirt. Just let me explain this to you and then we can go to hospital. Anyway, I don't think that painkillers will work much longer and my leg hurt quite a lot, before I took them." Al said with a small smile on his face and pointed down to his lower right limb.

It was sloppily covered in several layers of bandages, through which was slowly soaking a good amount of blood. It must have been an open fracture.

Ed wrinkled his nose and his stomach did an impressive roll at the image of that in his head. He was never too comfortable with blood and injuries. At least it was better with his own hurts.

"Are you kidding me? It can wait; I must take you to hospital first!" Ed demanded.

"Nah. The combination of adrenaline and painkillers - I'm too excited to really feel anything and I can't tell you about this in public... But you still can wait long hours and speculate about the missing component in this world's alchemy on your own." A tiny evil grin was spread across Alphonse's lips.

"Fine, you won, but I won't give you more than ten minutes. After that, I'm dragging you there, no arguments allowed."

"I'm not even asking for more. Besides, I'm not the Elric that is scared of doctors!" Al said smugly, and if his head wasn't injured, there would definitely be a throbbing bump on the back of it right now.

"Okay then... When I was pinned to floor and saw blood… I didn't bother with examining it closely. I simply panicked! I thought that I was going to die there! I tried to call for help, but nobody was coming. Before the quake, I was reading that book by professor Maddison, specifically the section about alchemy - by the way, amazing book..." Al continued enthusiastically and Ed responded in same tone: "I know! It is totally awesome!"

Both brothers shared an excited expression before Al continued.

"...and when I was almost giving up, it inspired me... And so I tried alchemy. I clapped, creating the circle to simply destruct and again reconstruct the ground, no additional compounds. Literally child's play for us."

Ed's brows knit together at that. "Nothing new...? Why doesn't it work for me, then?"

"Because you aren't trying it while there are earthquake aftershocks appearing every few minutes."

"Are you trying to say that alchemy requires the ground to tremble violently in order to work properly?"

"Exactly!" Al said excitedly. "What is the source of alchemical power in Amestris?"

"The energy of the user along with the tectonic energy from the ground... Also, it's just a speculation, but there is a chance that somehow we are stealing part of it from here, this side of Gate. That's probably the reason, why there are, this many wars here." [4]

"And that's the reason why it doesn't work here, as well... I don't think that we are responsible for their wars, but what if we are using all of their natural tectonic energy...? There is, however, a situation when vast amounts of energy are released from Earth in short periods of times and are creating surpluses of it."

Ed understood. "Earthquake!"

Al nodded with a big grin on his face.

"Do you really think that this may work somehow?" Ed asked sceptically.

"The last wave suddenly died down the moment I used alchemy. I don't believe it was a coincidence and after all, you can see the proof right there." Al pointed toward the floor under the bookshelf. The look in his eyes was too strong, too determined for Ed to not believe him. Besides, the simple thought of returning to their home was too wonderful to throw it out of the window without even trying.

The older boy huffed and straightened his back. "What do you propose we do? Are we going to blindly wait for another quake?"

"Exactly. The problem is their unpredictability. We can't just sit around hoping for another quake to come, but we will be able to try something." Al continued.

"What do you have in mind then?"

"What if we used something else as our source? Something that has plenty of tectonic energy and is more-or-less stable for longer periods of times? Something directly from Earth's centre?"

Ed quizzically raised an eyebrow.

"Do you know what the 'ring of fire' is?" Al asked, turning one of the books toward Ed. "Places on tectonic faults with many volcanoes." Al dragged a finger over the map, showing Ed which places he was referring to. "If we managed to find an active one there and use its energy..."

"This is crazy! We have no guarantee that it will work at all! We don't know how to use the energy of something like this." Ed protested weakly. The thought of returning home was beautiful and oh, so... so tempting, but they couldn't just abandon their lives to try to shoot blindly.

"There must be enough energy. How much do we need to open the gate one more time?!" Al insisted.

"Alphonse..."

"Brother. Please, this time you must trust me. You don't understand how it felt! I was able to feel precisely where this energy was coming from. It was different from the alchemy we know, yet exactly the same kind... I can offer you only hope, nothing more."

Ed broke the eye contact between them and considered what his younger sibling was proposing.

"We managed to do the impossible several times before; we will make it work once again. Together!" Ed nodded finally.

Al's face lit up with a happy smile. "I will go to our geology professor first thing on Monday. He may give us a starting point. You try to figure out why you need funding to research volcanoes."

"That can wait now! I told you that you only had ten minutes. Now we are going to hospital." Ed stretched a hand toward Al to help him get up, his character suddenly changing into older –brother-mode.

"Okay, okay!"                                              

Al rose to his good leg, Ed steadying him. They looked into each other's eyes and hugged tightly.

We can go home!

They only had hope, which was a blessing after years of the desperate belief of its impossibility.

 

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It took them little less than two months to set things into motion and find enough information and money for such an expedition.

In the end, they found a place suitable enough for their purpose, but it wasn't where they were looking for at first. Instead brothers were directed toward a group of islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Forcing themselves on board ships to take them to their destination was an easier task and by the middle of the third month since the earthquake, they landed on the sandy beach of a warm island.

"Wow!" Al said in awe as the brothers finally reached their destination.

"After I die I want to end up in a place like this."

"Brother… theoretically, you've already died once and... you know - here you are."

"Shut up! You know how I meant that." Ed defended himself, lightly punching Al into his nearest shoulder.

Al chuckled. "But I totally understand. This place is a paradise."

"Hawaii..." Ed tested the word on his lips. "Do you think there's a similar place like this somewhere at home?"

"I don't know. We can try to find it later."

Ed cast a quick, sideway glance at his younger sibling and noticed a small sparkle enter his eyes. Ed smiled. "We can try to find it soon."

"Then we better get to work. Where are we supposed to meet this Professor Haisen?"

"He'll be here in half an hour... Until then, we have some time. Maybe we can try the sea?" Ed proposed and with hopeful eyes watched Al's reaction.

"Well. It is our first time at a beach. It would be crazy to waste a chance like this one, wouldn't it?" The younger brother said as he quickly ripped his shirt off.

With childish excitement, Ed followed his example, for once not caring about his automail on public.

They both ran into the warm water, leaving their luggage near the sea line.

For about thirty minutes, they left  honour of adults, appropriate for a scientist and the best student in his year, buried in the pile of their possessions and enjoyed every second of their time running and jumping, splashing and diving, and as they climbed back onto land, covered in salt and sand. They felt that they had just reclaimed a small part of their lost childhood.

They sat down and let the breeze dry them, overwhelmed by its unique salty fragrance.

"Not everything in this world is bad." Ed said slowly in half a voice. "It isn't home, but if this won't work... there will still be a place for us."

"Yeah, I know."

Calm silence fell upon them.

After a few minutes that seemed shorter than they really were, it was broken by a rich, deep voice behind them.

"Elric brothers?" The voice asked and both men turned around.

Once again, like countless times before, for a split second the words were forgotten on their lips as they recognized the likeness of a man from the other –their- side of gate.

First one to recover from shock was Al. "Yes. You must be the professor that's supposed to take care of us while we are staying on this island."

"Yes! Professor Taylor asked me to explain to you anything that you will need for completion of your research. My name is Sol Haisen."

Al tactfully elbowed Ed to make him stop staring. Ed tore his gaze from the thin, blue eyes, long black hair tied back into low ponytail and, for this place, abnormally pale skin of the man in front of him.

"My name is Edward Elric and this is my younger brother Alphonse. We are thankful that you were able to arrange things for us with such short notice." They shook hands.

"The Hawaiian volcanic observatory has guests rarely, so we always have a place available. Speaking of which, we should get going. You look like you could use a shower. My car is nearby."

Professor Haisen motioned for the brothers to follow him.

Ed and Al grabbed their luggage and as they fell slightly behind, Ed whispered to Al. "Kimblee wearing a floral print shirt and shorts! That's the most ridiculous thing I've seen in the last year."

"Shirt? Did you see his face? He was smiling in a happy-go-lucky way. It's creeping me out! It's probably even scarier than his usual maniacal grin... But still, it wasn't polite to stare like that."

By the time the brothers came toward car, they were both choking with soft chuckles.

After loading their things and sitting, Haisen started the car engine and the vehicle moved forward.

Ed smiled evilly and winked at Al and started small talk with black haired man. "If I may ask, what inspired you to become volcanologist? Is there some kind of enjoyment in explosions or something like that?"

"I don't know myself what brought me here, but as a matter of fact – I do like explosions. According to my parents I was attracted to them ever since I was a kid. It may be one of the reasons."

"Why doesn't that surprise me?" Al muttered to Ed, his face turning red because he was trying to keep his laughs subdued.

"And what brings a future doctor and a rocket engines and fuels expert like you all the way to the summit of Kilauea?" Haisen cut them off.

"Kill-what?" Ed interrupted dumbly.

"Kilauea… It's the name of that small angry lady, up there." The oldest man let go of the steering wheel with one hand and pointed toward the smaller mountain rising above the shore. "In Hawaiian it means 'spewing' as it is often outpouring streams of lava."

"Oh, right... We came here to get samples of some of the volcanic minerals from the crater. We are now developing a new kind of rocket fuel and we hope that experiments with these samples will get us better attributes." Ed offered a lie that he had mastered by now. He had used it many times before to get them the funding for the whole trip.

"Well I don't know what you will find there, but you certainly chose the best place on Earth for it." Haisen said cheerfully, earning nostalgic smiles from both brothers.

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A few hours later, after having a quick shower and lunch, they found themselves in the main office of the observatory. The room was filled with many beeping machines that neither brother could identify. Spread all over the tables were stacks of papers printed with numbers and graphs.

Except for Haisen, the observatory had three other scientists which were now busy working in other rooms, not paying attention to Elrics, who were getting ready for their trip into the crater.

The brothers packed their sacks with things for transmutation and the few memories that they decided to take home with them, and were now getting a brief pep talk from Kimblee's doppelganger. The man put some topographical maps in front of the brothers and started acquainting the young men with the terrain of the crater.

"The summit of Kilauea is a caldera. What once was the top of the volcano collapsed and created a wide crater. It's that big smoking hole less than half a kilometre from here. Its width is almost four kilometres and at some places it is more than a hundred metres deep. Try to be very careful while descending."

"Before, you were mentioning an active lava lake. Where exactly is it?" Al asked.

"It's this smaller crater closer to southern rim. Its name is Halema'uma'u. Its diameter is around 400 metres and for years it's been filled with lava. However, try to stay as far from it as possible."

"Why? That lake was the main reason we came here." Ed asked sensing some obstacles.

"In the past months the whole lava lake began to sink deeper into the mountain until it fully disappeared from sight..."

"Are you telling us that coming here was totally pointless and that stupid volcano isn't even active in the first place?" Ed asked, few subtle signals of his anger already showing on his face.

"Quite the opposite." Haisen said calmly and brought a map closer. "As the level of lava dropped deeper, the walls of the volcano weakened. The ground around is breaking and big parts of rock are falling into the conduit. If it continues this way, the rubble will create blockage." He drew a simple sketch of the volcano while speaking. "Water that is seeping from the ground around the conduit is converted into steam and is gradually creating pressure under the blockage until... BOOM!" He made the loud sound, causing the brothers to jerk with surprise. For a second it was Kimblee who stood in front of them, hands out wide. "It's released with an explosion. Once it starts, the cycle may repeat hundreds of times for several days. I guarantee you it is very active and getting close to it is extremely dangerous." [5]

"Sounds like we found quite the fitting place, Al." Ed grinned toward his younger sibling.

"You aren't really planning to go there, are you?" The professor asked suspiciously.

"Maybe we will give it a small peek."

"Were you listening to anything I just said? The whole caldera is dangerous, I'm letting you go there, only because we will be able to warn you a few minutes in advance. Going closer than half of a kilometre to it may cost you your life." Oldest man's voice became cold and severe.

"We are grateful for your concern, but I believe this decision is closely tied to success of our research and is completely ours. The guidance you gave us will be helpful. Thanks." Ed answered, his voice becoming equally strict, and motioned toward the doors to Al.

"Not while I'm responsible for the safety of this area." As they were turning around to leave, the black haired man grabbed Ed by the elbow, stopping him in place.

Ed let his reflexes guide his quick movements and in the blink of an eye, he was holding Haisen against the nearest wall, his arm painfully twisted behind his back. The older man hissed in pain.

"Ed…" Al said with a steady voice.

Edward released his hold. "I don't want to hurt you, but try to understand that you won't be able to stop us either." For a while, golden eyes stared into worried, icy blue ones, Ed's proud gaze only proving his words.

"You try to understand that once you are inside that crater, you are on your own. The risk is too big for anybody to go rescue you," the mirror of the man known in Amestris as Kimblee said heatedly.

Al walked forward and stood beside Ed. "We travelled through half of the world for this. We won't give up now when we are this close to our goal."

Two similar brothers, with determination in their eyes stood in front Haisen. "What is there that you are willing to risk your lives for?"

"For us, it would be life itself." Al said gently. And suddenly the sight of them – standing shoulder to shoulder, the two geniuses behind those golden irises broke him.

"Stay upwind from all the steam and vapours. Volcanic gas is poisonous and it will kill you in less than one minute. Always watch the earth under your feet and take notice of any cracks. The ground isn't stable so you must be extra careful about where you are standing... You are taking walkie-talkies with you and the moment we warn you, you will leave everything and run toward the north, back here!" Haisen pressed a small radio device into Edward's palm.

The same satisfied grin spread on the lips of the two young men.

"Thank you." Al said, gratefulness shining in his eyes.

"Just go already, before either I or Halema'uma'u changes our minds."

The boys moved in unison. Giving him a simple nod and turning toward the doors, disappearing from his sight.

"Crazy idiots." Haisen mumbled, as he sat in front of the beeping monitors.

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With a loud hiss, a cloud of steam and deadly gases burst from a wide hole in the ground.

Al raised his head from his work and carefully observed their surroundings for a few seconds. His eyes were focused on a white cloud of hot vapours and he analysed the direction to which they were drifting to. At the same time he was listening to every tiny sound from underneath them. He recognized the sound of smaller bits of earth falling into the depths of the crater, but no sound suggested cracks in the ground coming closer.

Satisfied with the state of their safety, he wiped drops of sweet from his forehead and joined Ed in his work. Complicated equations were slowly appearing around them. Finally, after little more than 30 minutes, they were starting to resemble a wide circle. Neither of them would admit it, but their knowledge had gotten slightly rusty, and to complete everything perfectly took more effort than they originally thought.

Eventually the circle was finished after both brothers had drawn half of the final outer circle.

They stood up, and for a few seconds simply stared at their creation. A small, happy smile was on Al's face as he moved a few feet from it and lay down on the hard, warm ground.

Ed soon followed suit and lay next to him. All they could do now was wait.

"How is your leg?" Ed asked casually, cutting the silence.

"Without that annoying cast, it's much better. From time to time there's a brief pain from it, but other than that, it's completely alright."

Ed nodded, satisfied with Al's answer and twirled the small, remaining piece of chalk between his white fingers.

"What are you going to..." Younger brother started, but was interrupted in the middle of sentence, by another boiling cloud that burst from crater.

The moment the steam began to jostle toward the skies, Ed sat up and pressed his palms together.

Faint blue sparkles twinkled on tips of his fingers and when he slowly opened his palms, only white dust, remains of the chalk he was holding, scattered from them.

It was just a tiny transmutation, - all that he was able to squeeze from the small amount of energy that was released - but for him, it was the same as finally seeing his home in the distance.

"Al! It's true!... It worked! Real alchemy and not just this world's magic crap."

"See? I told you!"

"Yeah, but seeing it is a whole lot different. It's real!" Ed almost squeaked in his enthusiasm.

"You didn't believe me?" Al asked, feeling offended.

"Of course I did! Why do you think I willingly walked into the middle of a fucking inferno?" Ed smiled at Al and lay back down. For a moment there was silence.

"But it certainly doesn't look that bad here. It's warm, the scenery is beautiful, and the air smells like sulphur, reminding me of laboratories... If the possibility of this mountain blowing up and grilling us any second wasn't so high, I would enjoy it here." Ed said lazily, watching the greyish skies. "I mean, I always imagined an active volcano looking more deadly."

Al snorted in answer. "Yes. It surely is a beautiful place for a departure."

Just as Al's voice died down, the air and land vibrated with unexpected power. Once again, the water hissed as it changed its state from liquid into gas... However, this time it was different. The cloud was darker and cracks were spreading underneath them. The brothers jumped onto their feet, alarmed by the sudden situation, and watched as big chunks of the ground were torn and dropped into the crater.

It took almost a full minute for the volcano to finally calm down. The two of them stood frozen as it ended and they nearly missed the buzz and alarmed voice coming from the walkie-talkie laying next to their bags.

"Boys! You must leave immediately! The volcanic conduit is blocked. You have less than ten minutes until it will blow up. Get out of there this instant!"

Al turned toward Ed and said slowly: "This is it...What are we going to do?" Their eyes met for a long moment of consideration, until Ed turned and walked toward their bags.

He grabbed the black device and pressed the button on its side. "Sorry." He opened his mouth to say more, but then just brought his hand down, as if changing his mind.

"Let's do this. I'm not giving up half way there." In one quick arm movement, Ed threw the small box into hole of crater. "We are staying."

"Then we should get ready before it starts." Al walked toward Edward and swung his bag on his shoulders. Ed did the same with his own sack, his small pack of memories of the world they were hopefully leaving behind.

Together they walked into the middle of the circle and sank to their knees, facing each other.

"We will need the energy of every single second. We must activate the circle as soon as it starts." Ed reminded Al for last time.

"I know, brother."

"We can do this."

"Of course we can. We are the amazing Elric brothers, after all." Al chuckled weakly and to make them both feel better, he took Ed by his flesh palm and gently squeezed.

The rock underneath them began to hum with tiny vibrations.

"What are you going to do, once we are back at home?" Al asked.

"I honestly don't know... Go see Granny Pinako and Winry, Teacher and Sig... Those bastards from the military. Maybe I will even become a state alchemist again... What about you. Is there something on your mind?" Ed asked softly.

In this slow moment of awaiting their destiny, they became deaf to the sounds around them.

"I'll go see Winry. I will tell her everything I couldn't. All those words that circled around in my mind night after night… And if she is still single, I will kiss her." Al smiled happily.

"Go get her, Tiger." Ed laughed.

As the world around was breaking apart, a strange peace settled over them. They watched each other with smiles but their eyes were filled with tears, that weren’t yet spilled. They tried to ignored the fact that they were possibly throwing themselves into the clutches of death.

"And you should do the same," Al teased.

"What do you mean?" Ed asked suspiciously.

"Oh, come on brother. You know exactly what I mean, and I'm not blind... You like Mustang... You even went as far as dating his reflection. Or were you honestly thinking that I haven't noticed? Besides, I know you already brought those feelings into this world. The looks you were giving him in the office all those years ago were obvious." Al smiled warmly at his older sibling.

"What?" Ed's face transformed into shocked expression, his cheeks tainted with a light blush and hints of panic in his eyes.

Both the air and ground were quickly getting hotter. Deep cracks were spreading from the crater, creeping closer to brothers.

"Somehow, the whole team realised it after a while... We even had a few bets on you." Al just shrugged and then continued, leaning closer to Ed. "Hawkeye once told me, that she noticed similar looks directed toward you from the Colonel. Try to think about it, once we are on the other side. It's worth trying."

Ed was silent for a moment. He opened his mouth twice to say something, but both times he quickly changed his mind and remained silent instead. Only on the third try he managed to find the words. "I hate it when you are acting like the older brother."

Al chuckled, but that happy sound was covered by the violent roar of Halema'uma'u. Both boys were suddenly jerked to the side, but they managed to keep themselves upright. Debris and ash were falling around in a hard rain. Ed turned his head toward the crater and saw a giant, dark cloud billowing up and approaching them. It wasn't about the course of the wind anymore. The poisonous gases were now spreading to the edges of the crater.

"Al, now!" He shouted and slammed his palms on the chalk lines. Al quickly did the same and the circle began to glow.

"Hold your breath!" Ed managed to yell before the cloud swallowed them.

Immediately their eyes began to sting and the wave of heat almost made them gasp for air. The sensation of active alchemy was almost forgotten as their lungs demanded oxygen. The hold of their interlinked finertips tightened.

With every passing second they became more desperate. They failed! And they were going to die here!

Everything seemed lost…

…until they both felt it.

The sensation and itch of their bodies being decomposed by alchemy.

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Edward woke up, his lungs stinging like hell. He tried to take a small breath, but could only cough sharply. His throat tightened uncomfortably. He quickly rolled onto his stomach, pushed himself up on his elbows and threw up.

Between his heaving, Ed looked around searching for Al... He was lying nearby. Not moving yet, but still breathing.

When his stomach was finally empty, he spit a few times to get rid of the sour taste in his mouth.

He felt weak and his eyes were burning. Tears were falling down his cheeks as his eyes tried to get rid of all the dirt and dust in them. Ed wanted to wipe them from his face, but his hands were all grey, fully covered in ash and soot. Instead he pulled the collar of his shirt up and rubbed the fabric against his face.

As he tried to sit, his head spun. Slowly, he pulled out a bottle of water from his bag and greedily took a few gulps. The burning in his throat almost completely faded and Ed was finally able to focus on the matter at hand.

Where the hell were they?

One look around was enough to make Edward's heart happily skip a beat. Ed recognized the place immediately. This was Risembool and they appeared only a few metres away from the remains of their old house. The burnt wooden beams and damaged walls were half covered in green creepers that were slowly hiding what was once a symbol of their determination to move forward.

The fresh, uncut grass was swaying in the light wind, the horizon surrounded by low hills, the blue summer sky…

Everything he saw was clearly screaming 'home'.

And his heart responded just as loudly.

He was tired and his body ached, but inside he was jumping with joy. Wide smiles and happy laughs were inevitable. His moment of euphoria was disturbed by an uncomfortable sounding moan, which quickly changed into a dry coughing fit.

Al curled into a ball on his side, his right hand tightly clutching the centre of his chest.

Edward quickly crawled to him and pulled his younger brother into his lap. He put bottle of water to Al's dirty lips and before tilting it up Ed ordered kindly: "Drink! It's just water."

Al gladly obeyed and swallowed several big gulps of the liquid. After the fire in his throat was extinguished, Al pushed Ed's hands away and opened his watery eyes.

"We aren't dead, nor are we inside of the Gate. Did it really work?" Al asked in a raspy voice.

"I still can't completely believe it myself, but this is definitely Risembool. We did it Al." Ed wrapped his arms, tightly around Al shoulders and they pressed their faces against each other necks.

"You ever had any doubts about my theories?" Al teased with wide smile.

"With all honesty, when I was almost choking on sulphur dioxide, for a split second I really thought that we were going to die... Forgive me, O wise brother, for my lack of faith." Ed chuckled playfully.

"Shut up!" Al defended himself and pushed himself up higher to sit on grass.

The moment he was upright, his head throbbed with an intense pain in his temples. Al hissed and buried his head in his palms.

"What's wrong?" Ed was immediately alarmed by this.

"Something hit me in the head during the explosion. It isn't serious, but I think there will be big lump tomorrow."

"Are you going to be alright?" Ed asked, concerned.

"Definitely. Training with teacher was much worse than this." Al smiled reassuringly at Ed.

"Do you think you will be able to walk? We are going to Winry's and Pinako's place. We really need to shower and clean ourselves." Ed asked and Al nodded silently, already climbing onto his feet. His first step was slightly wobbly, but he quickly shook the dizziness from his head.

They started walking down the hill slowly, keeping their eyes on each other's condition.

"Promise me we aren't doing this ever again." Al started after more than a minute.

"Gladly. We will never mess with forbidden alchemy again."

"Am I really supposed to believe the words coming from your mouth right now?" Al said smugly and was rewarded with a light nudge from Ed's elbow.

They stayed silent for quite some time, until Ed remembered something.

"What exactly you were saying about the bets you had in the office?"

"Oh, they were nothing... Just a few friendly guesses on how much time you two needed to stop hiding your feelings and pin each other against wall... Most of them expired shortly after you disappeared the first time."

Ed's face went pink. "This is what you were talking about while I was inside giving those stupid reports and granting us budgets?"

"Either that, or if you would be wild enough, to actually go all the way and have sex inside the inner office."

"Shut up!" Ed cried out, his face burning a bright red.

"I'm just kidding..." Al grinned wickedly and continued in a sing-song, bratty voice. "Everybody knew the answer for that one, so it wouldn't be a real bet." He swiftly changed his walk into a slow jog to put distance between them.

Ed's eyes widened in humiliation and he couldn't help but shout after his younger sibling. "Alphonse Elric! When I catch you, I'll seriously kick your ass back through the Gate." And he quickened his pace as well.

He chased after his younger brother through familiar fields and for the first time since he was a kid, everything felt right.

Safe and familiar.

Home...

 

 


 

[1] – According to my logic, Germany between war was willing to pour resources into research of rockets and chemistry, but I am not so sure that years will quite work out. Let’s just pretend that Germany wasn’t so poor at that time.

[2] – Again, I butchered some long along heard history facts and probably put them in a wrong era and wrong country: Inflation was quite high at the time, so much that wages were quickly loosing their value, so people were trying to spend their money quite quickly instead of saving them. As this story is about Elrics, everything that they didn’t spend on basic needs and Al’s studies, they used for buying books.

[3] – This fictional book is a part of another story line I never got to writing. R. Maddison is a profesor that picked an interest of Ed with his research on alchemy, but when Ed managed to finally go and meet him, he found out he was comatose, because of recent accident. In the hospital, where he is sent by PA, Ed feels drawn toward the sleeping man. As some nurse tells him, that talking to comatose patients may help them, Ed starts on routine of almost daily visits, where he goes through his research, making fun of all the facts he got wrong.

Some time later profesor wakes up and finds fascinating alchemy papers around his room and what seems like a complex array drawn on his hand. He also faintly remembers a voice talking to him about elements and fire.

Romance with a happy ending happens next.

Oh and professors name is Roy  ;-)

[4] – Yep, I based whole fanfic on single line from Scar in Brotherhood and sticked it into 2003 universe.

[5] – This actually happened on May 1924, nicely fitting the timeline and giving me awesome location Hawaii to work with.