Fic: Diverging Paths (26/31)
Summary: Xerxes falls and the only two survivors walk away from the dead city.
Homunculus is keen to make the most of the new human body he now wears, and he goes out into the world, still planning his ascension to godhood as he strips away his vices and turns them into homunculi.
Van Hohenheim believes he has become a monster, and he hides himself away, befriending the other abominations of the world, failed human transmutations doomed to agonising half-life without the intervention of a Philosopher’s Stone.
Years later, Homunculus meets Trisha Elric and sires two sons with her before vanishing into the night, whilst Hohenheim tries to foil his doppelgänger’s schemes.
Years after that, Edward and Alphonse Elric are caught up in the middle of it all…
A Father-Hohenheim role reversal switcheroo, following Mangahood’s main plot with elements of ‘03, based on the premise ‘what if Father was Ed and Al’s father and Hohenheim was the one hiding under Central?’
[One] [Two] [Three] [Four] [Five] [Six] [Seven] [Eight] [Nine] [Ten] [Eleven] [Twelve] [Thirteen] [Fourteen] [Fifteen] [Sixteen] [Seventeen] [Eighteen] [Nineteen] [Twenty] [Twenty-One] [Twenty-Two] [Twenty-Three] [Twenty-Four] [Twenty-Five] [AO3]
Content Warning: Canon-typical violence
The basement area underneath Central Command was, to put it mildly, creepy. Al suppressed a shudder as he and the others moved through the dark, damp rooms, with Charity and Chastity leading the way. They could hear the sounds of commotion above them as the military dealt with all of the chaos that was going on outside in the city.
One would have thought that the catacombs underneath the building would be the creepiest part, but whilst the homunculi had managed to make their home look welcoming and like a place that you’d want to stay in despite the lack of natural light, the building’s lower levels had made no such concessions. There was an oppressiveness in the very air, and the shadows lurking around every corner gave Al no small degree of uneasiness, looking for Pride hiding anywhere and everywhere.
“It’s ok,” Chary said to him, as if she was reading his thoughts. “There are no other homunculi near, just me and Chass. Pride’s not here, I can feel it.”
Considering how fast Pride could move through the shadows if he wished, especially as they were right within his domain, Al wasn’t completely mollified. All he could hope was that Havoc hadn’t been seeing things and that the containment that Hohenheim had fashioned for Pride in the residence would hold fast. Beside him, May was clutching Shao May close, and both of them looked to be completely terrified by their surroundings, but she said nothing, just pressing on with the rest of them. Al really wished that he could have left her behind with Winry in Resembool, as safe and as far away from it all as possible, but even he had to admit that her alkahestry would come in handy, especially if Father turned off normal Amestrian alchemy like he had done to them before. If Scar needed any help in setting up and pushing out his brother’s counter-circle, then May was best positioned to assist him.
The rest of them were really just there to provide cover against whatever might be waiting for them, because distracted as they might be with Mustang’s insurrection, no-one was naive enough to believe that there was any part of Central Command that was entirely undefended.
The chamber that they ended up in as the exact centre point under Father’s lair, where the exact centre of Amestris itself was, the heart of the very country, was eerily bare and plain, and worryingly large. Al would have felt a lot better about the whole thing if they were in a broom closet somewhere, but the fact that this room was so large and cavernous meant that it must have been designed with some purpose in mind, and since Father would have been the one to design it, Al didn’t want to think what purpose it was supposed to serve. It was one of those situations where everything seemed too obvious. Too easy.
Chastity was walking around the edges of the room, sounding all the walls with a furrowed brow, and Chary was looking similarly perturbed.
“I don’t like this,” she muttered, readjusting the weight of the frying pan in her hands. “Something’s not right and I can’t put my finger on it.”
“Well, this is where we have to be,” Scar said. “The sooner this is done, the sooner we can get out of this place.” He paused. “I agree, though. There’s something unsettling about it all.”
May shivered. “Let’s just do this as quickly as we can.”
She and Scar made their way over to the middle of the room, the rest of them helping to measure out the floor so that they could be sure of being dead centre.
“Something’s not right.” Chastity shook his head. “Something’s wrong.” He looked over to Chary. “You can feel it too, right? There’s a Stone somewhere nearby and it’s not one of ours.”
“Pride?” Al asked.
“No. It’s an independent Stone, it’s not one in a homunculus, it’s…” Chastity broke off. “We’ve got company, everyone!”
Al only had a split second to react to Chastity’s warning before chaos rained down from above.
There was something off about the men who attacked them; it was as if they were almost, not-quite human, and almost, not-quite something else. The speed and strength with which they moved rivalled the homunculi, and indeed, Chastity and Chary were both swearing up an absolute storm as they took on the new arrivals; Chary’s frying pan had probably never seen such violent action in its lifetime. Al transmuted himself a blade to try and hold off the man who had come after him; the sabre action reminded him of the Fuhrer and he really didn’t want to think of the implications. As skilled with the swords as his assailant was, though, his expression was blank, eyes dull and lifeless, as if there was no soul at all behind them; like the man was just a puppet on a string.
Who was pulling the string, though? Was this Father’s doing?
Out of the corner of his eye, between Zampano’s quills and Jerso’s saliva and Scar’s alchemy and May’s kunai and Chary’s wildly flying frying pan, Al saw a figure watching them calmly from the entrance to the chamber, a stocky man in a lab coat with a horrible, rictus grin on his face as he took in the scene in front of him almost with glee.
“What the hell are these things?” Chastity panted, leaping onto the back of the one who was going after Chary and snapping its neck. He did not regenerate as the homunculi did, so at least they had the small reassurance of knowing that they could be killed; it was just a question of being able to get close enough to land a final blow. Considering the age they looked to be, the men were ridiculously agile.
“I don’t think I want to know,” Jerso said. “Let’s just try and kill them while we can and get out of here.”
“These are the men who would have been Wrath.”
It was the doctor who spoke, but Al paid him little heed, trying to keep on his toes and keep from getting in the way of the others as they all tried to beat the men back and give Scar the space to draw the counter-circle at the dead centre point where it needed to be.
“Oh great. The Wrath Rejects Brigade. Just perfect. Just what we need.” Chastity dispatched another and looked around before heading towards the doctor, likely the one controlling the men. Al managed to kick his away and looked over at the others. Scar was bleeding heavily from the shoulder where a blade had caught him; it was clear that they were going after him in the first instance, and Al began to run over to help him - Jerso and Zampano were doing all they could just to stay in the fight, Chary and Chastity were having no luck in taking down the doctor, with the men just converging on them before they could even get close, forcing them to tag team.
“Hang in there, Scar…”
Al skidded to a stop in his tracks as May was flung across the room in front of him, he and Scar both calling out at the same time.
On instinct, Al ran to her limp form; Scar might be injured but at least he was conscious and could still defend himself.
“May, are you ok? May!”
“Get her out of here!” Scar yelled to him. “Take her back down into the tunnels!”
Al didn’t need telling twice and he unfastened his chest plate, lifting May inside before getting to his feet.
“Hang in there, May, ok?” Al started running back towards the entrance into the catacombs; he knew that he was probably jolting May and hurting her more, but he figured she’d still be safer inside his chest cavity than in his arms; he was a suit of armour after all, and armour was supposed to protect a vulnerable human body. Although none of their attackers seemed to be following him, he could still hear the fight going on behind him. He felt awful leaving the others to their fate, but May was more important right now, getting her out had to be the priority, and he was the one best placed to keep her safe.
He made it through the door and slammed it shut behind him, climbing the ladder back down into the homunculi’s home.
“Mom!” he yelled, instinct kicking in over everything else and the fact that Mom wasn’t really Mom flying out of sight in the wake of everything else that was going on. “Mom, help!”
“Alphonse? What’s the matter, are you hurt?”
Diligence sprinted along the corridor towards him.
“It’s May.” Al patted his chest as he came off the last rung. “She’s hurt.”
“Ok, bring her along here into my room, we’ll get her lying down and comfortable and see what we can do.”
Al nodded and followed Diligence through the tunnels, passing Havoc and Fuery who were setting up a barricade near the entranceway that led out onto the streets where he and Ed had first come in earlier. Al could hear the sounds of shouting voices and running footsteps, much closer than he had heard any sounds of the outside down here in the tunnels, and he came to the horrible conclusion that the military must have found the entrance and were making their way through the catacombs in the direction of the homunculi’s home. At least Havoc, Fuery and Diligence had the home advantage, so to speak.
Diligence waved him into her room and Al unfastened his chest plate, lifting May out and lying her down on the bed; Diligence checked her over.
“Looks like it’s just a concussion,” she said. “She should be fine, but we’ll keep a close eye on her in case anything changes. Shao May can watch out for any changes in her breathing.”
The little panda stationed herself on the pillow next to May’s head, focussing on her intently.
“Dili!” Al heard pattering footsteps from somewhere above them, and then a slide and thud; a moment later, Pasha rushed into the room, looking scared.
“Are you ok, Pasha?”
He nodded. “I’m fine; Patience sent me back down here once I’d done what I needed to do, but I saw that there are people in the tunnels; they’re getting closer.”
“I know, Pasha. You stay here with Al and May. Havoc, Fuery and I will take care of them.”
Although Al had never associated his mother with violence in any way, and in the limited interactions he’d had with Diligence so far in their acquaintance, he’d always seen her as more of a peaceful person, there was a fierce determination in her face as she left the room, and he recognised it for what it was: sheer maternal outrage. Even if Diligence had all her memories back; even if she fully accepted her identity as Trisha Elric, even if Mom had never died and this was still her original life, Al knew that she would have been wearing exactly the same expression as she had gone to defend her home and her family, and that she would have done it without hesitation. It didn’t matter that she couldn’t remember Al as her son. It didn’t matter that May and Pasha weren’t related to her by blood. It didn’t matter that Pasha was a homunculus and would heal up just as well as she would if he was injured.
All that mattered was that they were children and they were scared and they were in danger, and Diligence was, above all else, a Mom, and she was going to protect the children in her care.
They were on the back foot. Scar was bleeding and if they lost him then the counter-circle would be for nothing. Zampano was running out of quills; Jerso’s mouth was drying up. Al and May were out of the fight. Chastity was beginning to tire, and that was something considering he was a homunculus. He and Chary couldn’t keep this up much longer, the two of them against the entire troop of Wrath Rejects as they tried to protect everyone else.
They fell back around Scar, Chary standing ready with her frying pan whilst Chastity tried to staunch the wound in his arm.
The Wrath Rejects fell back then, and over Scar’s shoulder, Chastity saw why. The doctor who was controlling them had drawn a transmutation circle on the floor, and in his pocket, Chastity could just make out the faint red glow of an independent Philosopher’s Stone. That was what he and Chary had felt earlier. The Wrath Rejects were getting into formation around the circle.
White lightning flashed and filled the room.