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Title: Interview with a Human Sacrifice
Rating: PG
Prompt: 'They did not know it was impossible, so they did it.' -Mark Twain
Fandom/ Series: Fullmetal Alchemist
Word Count: 6386
Disclaimer: I do not, in any way, profit from the story and all creative rights to the characters belong to their original creator(s).
Summary: The Elric brothers, legends now fathers and grandfathers are comfortably retired in their late fifties. Within their long legacy of alchemical triumphs, it was the rumours of a single, marring failure that piqued unwanted interest.

*~*~*~*

Interview with a Human Sacrifice

Would you like to meet them?

Sir, I would die a happy man.

~

Summer, 1954.

The sun-kissed, golden fields of Resembool were a sight behold in their own right.

Gentle, rolling slopes, bountiful with harvest. It was the picturesque panorama of the all-natural countryside, offset only by the metallic whistle of the train announcing its departure.

He gripped the handle of his briefcase a little harder, greedily drinking in the same sights and smells that had nurtured two of the greatest alchemical minds in history. The easy mingling of agriculture and machinery that was their very hometown.

But even in the indulging instance pleasure crossed paths with duty, duty still remained the obligation. Ink smudged fingers fumbled around in his coat pocket, as his feet took him to the train conductor bellowing hearty welcomes at the straggling passengers.

"Excuse me sir." He reached the man just as he procured the slip of parchment he needed. "Would you mind pointing me in the direction of this address?"

"A tourist eh?" the stout, middle-aged man peered down at the spindly letters on the paper offered. "Ah! You'll be looking for the Rockbell's place."

They broke out into a wide smile in recognition and pointed a plump digit beyond the stone archway.

"If you stick to the road and don't mind a bit of a walk, it's the house right at the end of it." their welcoming smile faltered into light frown at a sudden thought. "You're not one of those crazy reporters from the radio are you?"

"No." He said, stowing the paper away with a thanks to the man. Expression carefully schooled into one of intrigue. "Not exactly, no. Why?"

"It's just that after all those little theories the station's been cooking up, they've been quite iffy about their privacy." they heaved a hefty sigh. "No matter, good luck and good day to you sir."

"And to you sir." he gave a quick tip of his hat and set off on that gravel path.

The endlessly blue horizon, the soft bays of sheep, the sweet smell of wheat that accompanied his every stride served only to lift his spirits and expectations to greater heights. When he reached the house on the end of that winding road, his heart was simply soaring.

With biased gaze, he noted the white-walled establishment to be far too modest and small for the reputation of the residents it held. Yet nonetheless, setting foot on that sun-bleached porch seemed something akin to trespassing sacred ground.

He patted down the non-existent wrinkles in his coat, straightened his tie, felt for stray stubble on his cleanly-shaved cheeks. Everything his self-consciousness dictated necessary to appear appropriate.

Finally he made a move to knock, even then still tentative in the gesture. His presence and the questions he brought seemed entirely intrusive. The train conductor's words leapt to the forefront of his thoughts and hesitation made him teeter.

The decision was made for him when the door swung open of its own accord.

Clean-cut, greying hair, neatly-trimmed moustache, and crows-feet around inquisitive eyes the colour of Xerxesian gold. In the doorway stood a legend in the deceiving skin of a kindly, old man.

Mouth agape, eyes round with infantile awe, hand still raised dumbly in the motion of knocking, it wasn't quite the intellectual first-impression he had wanted to make before the Alphonse Elric.

"Hello," a pause, "...you are?"

He snatched his hand from the air with reddening ears and scrambled to retrieve letter from his coat.

"Oh um, uh- his Excellency sent me here..." he trailed off weakly, words failing him at the most crucial moment.

"Mustang?" The older man took the proffered letter of introduction and skimmed it over with curious gaze. "Oh right! You must be the man he was telling us over the phone just then. You're here for an interview right?"

"Yes! If you don't mind." he swallowed down his mortification.

The current fuhrer was notorious for his tendency to procrastinate, this time at the risk of his presence bordering unannounced and frankly obnoxious. The still smiling man before him seemed to have no qualms with the situation, perhaps desensitised to the fuhrer's unconventional antics.

"Alphonse Elric, you can call me Al." they extended a wrinkled hand.

As if an introduction was necessary.

"Yes- of course you are! I know all about you Dr Elric!" he grasped their hand fervently and perhaps too much so. He caught bemusement flickering through their eyes. "It's an honour sir!"

"I'm sure it is." they chuckled indulgingly.

"Selim Bradley." he hastened to add, and at their unreadable look he elaborated. "My name sir."

"Selim Bradley?" the way they echoed him seemed almost unsure.

He wrestled down his pride into accepting it was not recognition that flickered through those eyes. If so, it was most likely for a reputation he didn't want.

"As in-"

"The former fuhrer's son yes." only when he realised exactly who he had cut off did his mouth shut with a click. Embarrassment had his shoulders bunching.

The older man merely smiled again.

"I was going to say the son of the lovely Mrs Bradley, but I guess that would work fine as well. You've grown. It's-" they paused as they looked him over from head to toe. "-a bit strange to say the least. I've always had this image of you as a child in my head."

He was struck by confusion, and curiosity had him asking.

"Have we met before sir?"

They seemed to reel slightly at a sudden realisation, and the answer he received was tinged with something akin to panic.

"Yes, when you were very little- you wouldn't remember of course."

There was a lengthy pause. They cleared their throat gently.

"Well! I suppose standing around here will get us nowhere. Come on inside, no need to take off your shoes. I'll go get my brother."

It was exactly the formula needed to have his heart on a gallop of anticipation again.

"My sincerest thanks for having me Dr Elric-" he thoroughly scraped the soles of his shoes on the welcome mat before even daring to follow the man into the household. "- I really appreciate it."

An amused smile was thrown over their shoulder. One that drew attention to a myriad of laughter lines.

"I'm sure you are." the aged scholar mused. "Excuse me a moment- Brother!"

There was a muffled, but unmistakable reply from the far end of the house. His pulse positively stuttered. The narrow hallway prevented him from glimpsing the man in question.

"Brother, we have a guest!"

"I heard you the first time."

His breath stuttered to a halt.

If his brother was a master of disguising brilliance with unpresuming air, Edward Elric championed his. An illustrious mantle that enshrouded their very being, every bit as grand and imposing as the rumours had likened them.

Albeit, their slightly diminutive stature an ever-present afterthought.

"What does he want? He doesn't seem like a customer." the force of their stare wasn't quite accusing, but every bit demanding.

He felt the need to straighten his already impeccable posture.

"He's the journalist Mr. Mustang was informing us about." at the absence of change in his brother's expression, Alphonse Elric cocked a brow. "Remember?"

He watched with high-strung nerves as the man snorted dismissively. The corners of their mouth turned down in a perpetual scowl.

"Nope. You know I never do like to listen to that geezer Al."

He had to choke down his shock at the man's casual insult of the highest ranked individual in the country.

Eyes raked over his form again. A golden hue shared among the brothers, and in his eyes, one that boasted a heritage of nothing but ancient scholars and craftsmen of Xerxes.

"And with good reason apparently. Handing out our address and privacy to random strangers? Gossip-hungry journalists? He must be going senile with age."

The younger of the brothers crossed their arms and rolled their eyes.

"Not some random stranger." they guided him forwards with a coaxing hand on their shoulder before clarifying. "Selim Bradley. Remember him?"

Grizzled brows shot to receding hairline, and after much scrutiny, regained surly composure.

"Of course I remember." they dismissed gruffly, shifting his weight to his left. An action that elicited a slight groan of metal.

The automail leg.

The realisation sent a thrill of excitement through him.

"It's truly a regret that I don't remember you sir." he decided to interject, smiling ruefully after a moment to regain control over his awe.

"Of course you don't. I'd be more concerned if you did." was the flippant reply.

"Now come on brother-"

"How old are you now?"

Both paused at the man's surprisingly cordial question. They were met with challenging glower.

"Thirty-seven sir."

The brothers exchanged a long look.

The eldest Elric abruptly pushed off from the wall.

"Why are we dawdling then? I know you have questions, and if I know journalists, you probably won't leave without answers-" any obligated protests at this were silenced before they could be given voice. "Now my lovely wife has scheduled for a photographer to come around this afternoon, so make it snappy."

"Thank you! It's an honour to have your permission sir-"

"Yeah alright. No need to fall over yourself." they scoffed, already stalking off into the house.

He watched the man go, opinion by no means lessened. Alphonse Elric took his quiet reverence as the opposite.

"Sorry about him." the older man began to lead the way to supposedly where his brother had disappeared to, looking causelessly sheepish.

He hurried to curb their concern.

"Oh no sir! You're everything I expected you to be. I know I've been saying this a lot but it is truly an honour to even have the chance to meet you."

His statement was met with thoughtful reverie.

"Everything you expected huh..." they shook off their brief contemplation with an apologetic chuckle. "Yes well nevertheless, my brother's been a bit crabby as of late. His wife, Winry and I think it's his constant denial of the fact that he's been starting to shrink this year."

"That's because I'm not shrinking."

They followed the vehement dissent into the living room, where the eldest Elric awaited them with heated glower. The brother beside him placatingly raised their hands in surrender, but discreetly shot him a look of suppressed mirth.

He smiled politely back.

The eldest claimed the armchair by the window, and his brother, neatly folded themself into the one beside it. It had to have been on purpose, the way the sun bathed them in golden light was almost poetic in its symbolism.

Golden beings. The perfect beings. Immortalised in alchemy's great history.

"Well?"

The path back to reality was beaconed sharply by the irritation kindling in the eldest Elric's eyes. Something he was wise enough not to dismiss as a trick of the light.

"Are we actually here for an interview Bradley? I'm starting to feel more like a museum exhibit by the second."

He ducked his head apologetically.

"Sorry!" he quickly planted himself onto the worn cushions of the sofa, whipping out the needed paper and pen. Only his favourite fountain pen was suitable for such a job. "It's the writer in me I swear, I always get caught up in the moment. Especially so since you're-" he broke off with a wave of his hand. "-the Elric brothers."

His proclamation was met with bewildered stares. Edward Elric with subtle derision.

"Alas, the man knows who he's interviewing!" they drawled, earning a reprimanding elbow from their younger.

"I just have to start off by saying that I have read all your works and I enjoyed them all immensely." he gestured towards the brother on the left, "Dr Alphonse Elric your book on Xingnese Alkahestry and Lore was eye-opening-" then to the one on the right. "and Dr Edward Elric, the advancements you have made in Aerugo's industrial front with the integration of alchemy is simply ingenious."

"All these years, and he's still an insufferable fan boy."

"Brother please." the rebuke that followed the mutter seemed more reflexive than anything. And while his brother offered a scoff, Alphonse Elric turned to him with warm smile. "Thank you Selim, we-" he shot meaningful look to his left. "appreciate your enthusiasm, it's frankly quite flattering. Will this be an interview on our travels then?"

"No actually- I've been writing up articles on renowned state alchemists of the early 20th century for the Amestris Times."

It earned him raised eyebrows from both brothers.

"The newspaper? That's quite the admirable career."

"Oh- it doesn't hold a candle to yours sirs." he waved away the compliment almost as quick as it came. He tapped out a quick rhythm on his notebook with his pen to hide just how chuffed he was. "So just a few simple questions to start off with- of course- you can refuse to answer at anytime."

"I was planning to, with or without your permission Bradley."

"Ignore my brother. Go on."

It was surreal to see two identical pairs of eyes harbouring two completely conflicting emotions of warm encouragement and cold disdain. But he hadn't arrived in Resembool with hopes of their approval in mind, it was answers to questions that he currently had the delicate privilege to.

He swallowed.

The opening question always determined the success of an interview.

"Alright so first question, you must have an alchemist you idolise to this day?"

"Nicholas-"

"-Flamel of course, you kidding?" the eldest finished, all traces of irritation lost in the throes of his subjective passion.

He proceeded with a wry smile, knowing the comfort of a much more fortified privilege.

~

Questions about alchemy.

"First transmutation?" Alphonse exchanged a thoughtful glance with his brother.

"It's been what? Decades since I felt that shift of power beneath my palms." the aging man allowed a moment to stare wistfully at his weathered hands. Then the stoic demeanour slipped back into place. "Al was three, I was four, we transmuted the floorboards of our home."

"Into a little wooden bird." the nostalgia seeped through the younger brother's musings. "Mum almost had a fit when we realised we hadn't quite known how to turn the floor back."

"Must've tripped over that damn bird five times before we studied enough to reverse it."

"I only tripped once."

"That's nothing to be proud of Al."

~

Questions about their achievements.

"Dr Elric, you were quite notorious in your youth. Youngest state alchemist at twelve." he shook his head in wonder. "I just can't imagine how little you must have been, when you earned such a title."

The younger Elric huffed a short laugh.

"I think I can help you with that Selim." they raised a hand just above armrest level, face carefully composed. "This little."

Edward Elric seemed to stifle a small seizure.

"It's also been decades since someone has taken a shot at my height Al." the grinding of teeth was audible.

"Oh I'm only preparing you for what's to come brother." an innocent smile played around under the bristles of the younger's moustache.

"I'm not shrinking."

Selim felt the corners of his mouth twitch despite his immense restraint.

Alphonse winked.

~

Questions that entertained conflicting opinions.

"So, who do you think is the better alchemist out of you two."

"He had to ask didn't he?"

"Mm, but since you asked-"

"Me of course."

"I'm definitely better."

They met eachother with respective cool gaze and heated glare.

"I'm the one who a­chieved title of State Alchemist at twelve Al. I think the right goes to me."

"Please brother, if it wasn't for the lack of interest and need, that title would have easily been mine." Alphonse leaned back in his seat with a low-key attitude of self-assurance. "At eleven, mind you."

"Your alchemy would have hardly been as efficient as mine at the time."

"Yes but far superior in terms of finesse and artistic taste."

With the way their gazes sharpened further, and wrinkled hands gripped their armrests, it seemed as if he had ignited a long standing feud. And the years had blessed them with a terrifying knack for passive-aggression.

"Why don't we ask our resident fan boy for his expert opinion then?" Edward Elric suggested with an edged smile.

"Let's."

Two expectant, demanding gazes settled upon him.

"I'm afraid that equipped with only rumours and tales of your prowess, I wouldn't be able to offer accurate closure sirs." he swiftly deflected, then wisely took the lull to quickly press on.

~

Questions that warranted a lack of response.

He found his pen tapping in thoughtful rhythm again. Selim inwardly debated the best course of action to take within the dwindling hour they had left.

"In your long career of alchemy..." he trailed off, searching for the appropriate way to phrase his words, "would you say there have been moments you find yourselves holding regrets over to this day?"

His question was met with pensive silence. A stark contrast from their previous quick-witted responses. Their weighted gazes, remained quietly settled upon him. The eldest's mouth lingered in its harsh line before parting.

"Many." the man said, "One in particular, but many."

He waited. But unlike before, the younger brother did not offer the expected elaboration.

He took the hint and moved on.

"Yes, alright- um- what about a turning point? A moment in your alchemic studies that changed everything for you- something that defines you to this day..."

They did not.

The younger's eyes sought to the horizon out the window.

The elder's gaze fell upon the worn threads of the rug at their feet.

The seconds stretched on. He felt the silence grow heavy, stifling. A thick tar that dragged against the too taut fibres of his mind. Grinding away at the bone of his skull.

Then, a humourless bark of laughter.

Sharp. Cutting.

Edward Elric's eyes snapped up, ensnaring his own in an undeniable challenge.

"You're clever Bradley." they said. "I'll give you that."

It was an acknowledgment, far, far from praise.

"Yet again you've had us fooled with your endearing facade of a devoted fan." a knowing smile curled the left side of his lip. "But I know."

"Sir?"

"You see I truly don't believe you're here to publish an article about renowned state alchemists of the 1900s." the shake of his head was mirrored by his brother. "No, because if so, we are hardly the suitable candidates you would want. Unlike Armstrong or Mustang, in the time that I was a dog of the military, my alchemical feats were hardly noteworthy nor publicised."

His feeble protest was easy silenced by a jerk of the thumb towards Alphonse.

"And if that was not warning enough, my brother was neither renowned nor a state alchemist."

The brother in question offered a reluctant smile.

"It pains me to say he's right Selim."

"And in other words, you're after the same thing all those other reporters and journalists have been hounding us about." he leaned back into his chair with victorious air. "Gossip and scandal."

The tense breath he held expelled from him in a rush.

"Alright sirs." It was with raised hands that he unabashedly conceded. "I know when I've been bested- you're right."

Under that cleverly composed mask of simple, brutish ire, against those eyes, gold tempered by long years of wit and intellect, he held not even a sliver of ground.

Selim flipped his notebook shut and swallowed back bitter disappointment.

"Of course I'm right, I've been playing this game for far longer." the eldest appraised him thoughtfully. "Your facade was commendable, that courtesy and admiration thing you had going, most journalists are far too pushy."

At that he gave a contrite smile.

"It's best not to insult those with reputations like yours, sirs." he held their gazes for a moment longer before bowing his head and reaching for his suitcase. "But I assure you that the admiration was no act to appease. You two have been the role models even now I still strive to be like. Intellectual, successful, profoundly wise and without that marring pride that most geniuses seem to possess- sorry, I'll just see myself out."

He caught the long look shared between brothers, but he had lost the right to inquire after it.

"Thank you for having me, truly." he extended a hand in farewell.

They did not take it.

Instead, Edward Elric spoke once more.

"There is a crude irony in our confiding in you of all people." they said, "But, we're feeling rather poetic today."

"Sir?"

"Well Bradley?" there was a glint in their eye, one that dared him to plant himself back onto that couch, to take his pen and paper out once more, to look them back in the eyes and-

"Ask."

He did.

With buckling knees, and trembling fingers that fumbled paper and pen.

"There have been rumours-" he cut himself off, heart in his throat, started again. "Have you- have you ever committed an alchemical taboo?"

The eldest with lifted chin, replied.

"Yes."

And as if the single, bold confession was not enough, Alphonse Elric elaborated.

"Human transmutation."

Out of the three, strangely it was he who found himself crumpling under the sheer gravity of their statement.

"What-" he broke off, dazedly dragging a hand across his jaw.

Not the illegal transmutation of gold. The idea seemed quite trivial now. They had willingly pleaded guilty of one of alchemy's two greatest sins.

In light of it, they sat calmly before him, seemingly finding amusement in his reaction, in the situation.

White-hot disbelief abruptly surged within his gut.

"Why- why would you tell me this?" He found words flying from his mouth, "You know this stuff ends reputations- hell, ends careers! They write your names out of history books, they'll deny you credit of any achievement- why would you tell me this?"

"Why?" the eldest rolled his shoulders with a wry curl of his lip, "You asked."

Their inappropriately nonchalant delivery had him reeling.

Playing god. Toying with human life. The implications behind such a confession were immense.

"Is this not what you came here for Bradley?"

"Yes but-."

The journalist urged him to interrogate further, to seize the moment and unravel everything. The child was completely reluctant to relinquish the pedestal upon which he had revered them for years.

The brothers, the legends that sat so patiently before him now.

"You're right." He squared his shoulders, gripped his pen tighter against his notebook. He wet his lips. "What was it? Human sacrifice, artificial creations, human-chimera transmutation...?"

He trailed off, glancing up just in time to catch the curious flinch that passed between the two.

"Human resurrection." Alphonse supplied, absently pinching at the fabric of his armrest with a mirthless crinkle of his eyes. "This exact day actually, forty-four years ago, brother was eleven, I was ten- we attempted to resurrect our mother."

His pen strokes were shaky. The date, their ages he diligently jotted down, it was all far too ill-fitting of such a taboo.

"Ten and eleven?" he parroted numbly. "You managed to perform Human Transmutation at ten and eleven?"

"Our theory was perfect, the circle, the ingredients. None of it was difficult to acquire." the eldest's gaze was fixed on some point on the ceiling. "And that's exactly where we went wrong. You know it all seems so foolish now."

Alphonse hummed in solemn agreement.

"The first law of alchemy is equivalent exchange."

"To think we actually had the nerve to believe our mother's life was equivalent to merely those material things. We deserved our failure."

When the man lapsed into bitter silence, the younger continued.

"Brother lost his leg to the rebound and-"

"I lost my brother."

There was something so uncharacteristically fragile in the statement. The vulnerability he was witnessing, it had his hand stilling.

Alphonse held his silence, fixing his brother with a contemplative stare. Understanding something he himself could never begin to fathom. The corner of their mouth twitched.

"Now you're just being a bit too dramatic brother."

"What-!" his indignant tone was at odds with the way he seemed to sag in relief at his brother's casual teasing. "Damn it Al! I was trying to be meaningful."

"It loses meaning when this brother you claim to have lost is sitting right next to you." they rolled their eyes good-naturedly.

"Yeah well, you're only here because I sacrificed my arm to get you back!"

"And here I thought you were trying to be meaningful."

But before Edward Elric could descend into one of his infamous temper tantrums, Alphonse bumped their arm lightly with his elbow. The man paused at his brother's warm look, before slumping back with a huff.

To say he was dazed at their easy banter over such an incident was an understatement. They must have caught his disbelief, because Alphonse suddenly seemed almost sheepish.

"You asked about a regret and a turning point before right Selim? Well that was it."

"I don't understand." he breathed, "Surely there were warnings. Didn't you know of- didn't anyone warn you?"

"Of course. Many. Our teacher for example."

"Then why did you-"

"-We might have been geniuses but we were children Selim." Alphonse calmly emphasised. "In our eyes they were adults who'd long lost their ability to imagine, to think beyond the small world of scepticism and logic they had trapped themselves in. Our own stubborn ignorance turned us deaf to their warnings."

"So I guess it's just as you said Bradley, about geniuses."

He met Edward's stare blankly.

"In the end we're all marred by the same arrogance. A pride that deludes us to believe we are capable of ascending the impossible." there was a foreboding edge of finality in their declaration. "We might possess high intellect but we're far from wise Bradley. The basis of our success for circle-less alchemy stems from an immoral and pathetic act of taboo- we are far from the role-models you believe us to be."

He felt drained.

Despite his best efforts, the pedestal was slowly crumbling.

"Is that the moral of your story then?" his voice sounded far too bleak, even to his own ears.

"We've made you cynical." the youngest Elric seemed almost sorrowful at the revelation.

"No-" he hurried to plaster a smile on his face in an attempt to salvage his composure. He was a grown man for heaven's sake. "No, I deserved the wake-up call- thank you for telling me this, it's just-"

His smile faltered abruptly. When he spoke again, it was pathetically tentative.

"I mean- is it so wrong for me to want to believe that you're lying?” he wet his lips. “That you're above these things you've said you've done- to indulge these silly beliefs you've proved impossible?"

When they did not reply, he made to apologise. He was acting out of place, he was allowed here as a journalist, not as an snivelling fan-boy.

"Do you remember the first question you asked us?" once again, Edward Elric's inquiry was completely unexpected and bewildering in its nature.

He had to take a moment. The interview preceding their confession had been forgotten in its triviality.

"Yes. The one alchemist you admire to this day, Nicholas Flamel."

"Do you know why?"

He was lost as to where their conversation was headed.

"I know he was renowned for his attempt to create a philosopher's stone in the fifteenth century, but no-"

"Exactly. This man tried to create the Fifth Element, an amplifier so powerful it could bypass the most absolute law of equivalent exchange, grant immortality, create matter from nothing. Can you even imagine where an ordinary man would even begin to try and achieve that?"

"No, it seems rather im-"

"-Impossible."

Selim paused at the first glimpse of a fire in their eyes. The fire of a passion that would kindle no matter the age that whittled away at its container.

"Every single alchemist in his time said so. But he still did it." and as the man continued, the years seemed to fall away from the visage. "He devoted his whole life to it. Over the course of it one thousand, eight hundred and seventy-six failed experiments- even upon his last breath, he was slaving over the impossible. And he, out of all the brilliant minds of the time, only he came closest to its accomplishment."

The intensity of the man's gaze slowly simmered to a smoulder.

"Now I'm not as proud nor quite so despicable as to portray our reasons behind human transmutation of the same integrity as Flamel's," they affirmed, "but I do believe that our mindset as children was inspired by his valiant disregard for the unachievable. And more than I regret losing my arm, losing my leg, I regret losing that mindset."

"Why is that?" he found himself asking.

"Being cynical isn't a good thing Bradley. Do you not agree that attempting the impossible is better than writing it off as such and never even trying?" they didn’t wait for his reply. "Alchemists should be the last people to blindly accept things the way they are. But that's what we did, and because of it we inadvertently allowed the death of an innocent girl."

With the way his brother sobered, he knew it was a matter that weighed heavily on both their minds.

"I know that if it was eleven year old me that met her, we would have been dumb enough to at least try to reverse human-chimera transmutation."

It explained their curious reaction before, but the implications behind their statement were simply absurd.

"You can’t possibly blame yourselves for that- human-chimera transmutation truly can't be reversed. Even if it could, there's no guarantee the victim would retain their previous self-"

"But that just brings us back in a full circle doesn't it?"

His mouth clicked shut.

"The notion of impossible is impossible. At least that's what a man we met in Dublith said. And if an old man like me whole-heartedly believes in such quote, I have no right to judge you for your want of naivety." They held his gaze steadily, with a gruff grunt, "And yes, I guess that’s another shaming failure you can add to that book of yours."

Selim looked down at his notebook. The pages had remained forgotten and devoid of his scrawl for the whole length of their conversation, and hesitantly wrote it down as he was told.

"Heavens brother, that was positively inspirational.” Alphonse's light-hearted tone hid an edge of annoyance. "Forget alchemy, you should write children's books."

"Al! Why do you insist on ruining it?"

"Well, maybe it’s due to the fact that you decided to spill everything without the thought of consulting my opinion ever crossing your mind?"

He glanced up at the eldest’s undignified splutter. The sun's gold had long bled dry from their hair and eyes, leaving in its wake two flawed, bickering, old men.

"Well, now that I’ve successfully coerced a rather lacklustre apology from my brother." They easily ignored the resulting grumble and fixed him with an inquisitive stare. "What will you do now?"

At this, Edward Elric ceased his muttering to similarly appraise him.

"Breaking a taboo, especially the one on human transmutation is a despicable thing Bradley, even after these decades of change. Alchemists who have attempted the feat hide it so dearly for a reason. Like you mentioned, it's a permanent stain on their record." Alphonse clasped their hands before them, tone merely pleasantly curious. "And we've just handed you all the ammunition you need to take down even a reputation like ours. So what will you do with it?"

"I-"

All three straightened at the sound of the front door slamming.

"Al! Ed dear!"

Edward made a noise of recognition, and with the pop of weary joints and groan of automail, pushed himself from the armchair.

"That'd be my wife. I'm afraid the time for questions and answers is up Bradley, no doubt she has the damn photographer with her." They took a moment to work the kinks out of their shoulders, before trudging out of the living room. "It's best not to keep her waiting."

"It's been a pleasure meeting and talking to you Selim." Alphonse, ever the politer of the brothers, offered a hand as he stowed away his things.

He took it, as was proper.

"Pleasure was all mine."

"Won't you join us for a picture? A souvenir for your trip back."

"I don’t think-"

"Of course he doesn't want to. We're not exactly his heroes anymore are we?" Edward Elric's voice echoed from down the hall. They followed to find him grinning sharply with arms folded. "But, I think as people who’ve guaranteed your successful career- it is quite the scoop we’ve given you- some sort of commemorative photo is order, right Bradley?"

He opened his mouth, whether to protest or agree he didn’t know, only to find himself being herded out onto their yard. The eldest Elric brother stood, surrounded by what could only be his sons and daughters, his grandchildren, his wife. Seeing the man in the middle of such a domestic scene silenced him.

"So," he caught Alphonse observing him from the corner of his eye, "are we still everything you expected us to be?"

He had no answer.

He sat before the typewriter that evening, cigarette spiralling pensive smoke into the rafters. Shoulders sagged and tie loose and shaken from its tediously uptight and immaculate pretence.

After everything came to an end, he had thanked them for their time. For confiding. For the photo.

He looked at the object in question now, pinned haphazardly above his workspace, and dragged thoughtfully from the cigarette.

Then he typed.

~

"Bradley!"

He started, head jumping up to attention with most graceless snort. With great difficulty he blinked the sleep out of his eyes to peer at his co-worker.

"Sleeping on the job?" they asked knowingly.

Selim merely fumbled to peel a sheet of paper from his cheek; no doubt he now had a clean copy of the transcript printed there.

"There's a phone call for you."

"Right." He mumbled, scrubbing roughly at his face as he stumbled out of his cramped office. The look he was subjected to informed him the action wasn’t doing him much good.

"Nice job with the article by the way Bradley! It was quite a shocker."

One hand on the receiver, he paused, before the events of last week caught up with him.

"Thanks." He smiled half-heartedly; it came out more of a grimace, and sluggishly brought the phone to his ear. "Bradley speaking."

"Bradley!"

The gruff bark of greeting sent his heart plummeting. He was suddenly completely awake.

"Dr Edward Elric sir!"

There was a silence from the other end.

"Well that’s a horrifically long way to address me." He could hear the roll of their eyes. "Relax yourself, I’m only ringing you up for a friendly chat."

He caught a noise that suspiciously sounded like a derisive chortle.

"Oh shut up Al. Anyway, my son sent over a copy of this week's Amestris Times. Sadly, despite your little article being published we’re still being hounded by reporters. Now more than ever actually."

"I'm sorry...?" he was unsure of the right response approach with.

"Don't be. We're the ones who practically shoved everything upon you." They scoffed. "But man-"

Selim swallowed, a rather audible sound that he hoped didn’t carry over.

"-you really laid it on pretty thick didn’t you?"

"Well…"

He heard faint rustle what he assumed was the newspaper in question.

"I mean if I can just remember the exact words - ah yes." They cleared their throat, a gesture that had him consumed by mortification. "More than for the prospect of a failure or mistake, alchemists and people of today should look towards the Elric brothers as inspirations. Embodying the fundamental philosophy of alchemy, to challenge the known and boundaries of the possible, they risk ridicule and judgement from the people, for the people."

A passing co-worker seemed to give his hunched form an odd look. His ears only burned redder.

"Edward and Alphonse Elric remain- and this is by far our favourite part- if not in history, then immortal in my respect."

This time, his brother’s chuckles in the background were unmistakable. He could practically sense their smug grin.

"Back to the hero worship again I see."

"Not quite sir." He allowed himself to uncurl from his embarrassment. "It’s not the same admiration I’d carried with me from boyhood. But yes, I respect you both immensely."

"Even after all our senile ramblings?"

"Now more than ever sir." He echoed, for once completely sure of his answer.

"Honestly Bradley, you must be some kind of damn pure saint to give up such a scandal."

"I like to see it as taking pride in the fact that I'm part of the select few who are privy to your secrets sir." Selim jested lightly. "Besides, I can always choose to reveal it when it tickles my fancy."

The man guffawed.

There was a stutter of static as the phone switched hands, Alphonse Elric’s voice sounded against his ear.

"Well Selim, now that my brother's taking his time gloating over the return of his only fan," They raised their voice ever so slightly to drown out the half-hearted denial that followed. "I have to say, your analysis of our alchemy in your article was far beyond the level of a mere supporter- haven't you ever considered a career in alchemy?"

Almost at once, he thought back to the years spent as a boy with his nose glued to the yellowing pages of Alchemy Theory. The tomes after tomes he’d devoted himself to despite the allure of play just outside the classroom windows.

"I've talked it over with my brother and we've come to an agreement that we both need an assistant in our next research endeavour- aging joints and all."

But as always, his mouth did the talking for him.

"Oh no, I couldn't possibly.” He crushed the notion at once. "Such an idea is impossi-"

He broke off.

Selim sensed the man’s amusement before he heard it.

"Impossible?"

A smile curled his lips and he joined the man’s laughter.

................................................................................................................................

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