He Who Searches for Himself
By: Yuuki Hikari
Genre: Post FMA1 Plot!Fic. Series exclusive, not CoS based.
Characters: Everyone from the first series who survived to ep 51, some necessary OCs because the villain count was low, and then some extras for character development. The fic does lack Psiren - she couldn't swindle her way into this.
This story is based off of the first FullMetal Alchemist anime (2003/2004). It picks up where Episode 51 leaves off (I marked the first chapter as 52). I began writing this fanfic before the FMA movie, and any details pertaining to the movie, had been released. Because of that, it is written entirely independent from the Conqueror of Shamballa.
This story was my very first fanfic, it has existed for almost as long as I've been in the fandom and it got pretty big. I've done minor editing to chapters 1 and 2 because they were terrifying at times (new writer and all) but on the whole I've left them rough around the edges. I've been told that there's a flow and a charm to watching how the writing style in my fic has evolved over the years. AmunRa was kind enough to volunteer her betaing services at chapter 8 :) thank her for making me a better writer!
Chapter 52 - Trains in Opposite Directions
"Al!" Izumi barked from a rickety wooden bench she occupied, "Get back from there!" her narrowed expression locked into a disapproving frown.
"It's fine! I just wanted to take a closer look!" Al called back, placing a hand on the cold, metal side of the train engine. His voice lowered as he spoke to himself, "I've seen them go by many times, but these ones are so different," his eyes were still 'new' – fresh with youth and full of renewed life most days. He laughed lightly as a thought crossed his mind, 'Maybe this is what I get for spending so much time with Winry!' He pressed the tips of his fingers harder against the cold steel, his lips curling in amusement, 'She'll be jealous when I tell her I was close and personal with the latest engines coming out of Central.'
Izumi slapped her hands down to her knees, standing up sharply, "you'll have your ticket taken away if you don't get yourself behind the white line, now!" It didn't matter if the statement was entirely true or not, her commanding voice made it so and that's all that mattered, since it got the boy to scamper backwards. It was too nice of a day to have anything else go wrong.
Alphonse straightened his pale-green, button-down shirt with a sharp tug. It was a bit too disconcerting to think just how much trouble he'd be in if someone took his ticket away twenty minutes before they were going to board. His teacher didn't have to say anything to him; Alphonse knew well enough that she hadn't been happy when their train pulled into the station just a bit too late. From the delays that ensued, the pair had been forced to wait for a nine o'clock departure that evening. He wasn't interested in exacerbating the travel issues any further.
Turning away from the train, Alphonse ran back up the platform stairs; his feet leaving a dull thump on each wooden plank. Shuffling his feet as he finished his ascent, the boy looked up sheepishly into his teachers stern expression, "The trains traveled by all the time, but we always stayed away from the tracks. Mom said it wasn't safe. It's different here, I wanted to have a look."
'We' was, by default, still Edward and Alphonse Elric.
Izumi shook her head as she let the air in her lungs slowly escape through her nostrils. Rolling her shoulders, she sat back down onto the paint-peeled, wooden bench, "It's the same train that parks in Rizembool for thirty minutes ever twelve hours."
Al's eyes widened in protest, "But there's only one track going through Rizembool Station! There's…" he spun on his toes and scampered to the railing of the platform - it hung as a canopy over the tracks below, "... two in here, and there are more outside! The platforms are huge, there's a roof overhead and floor is concrete. It's nothing like the old wooden one in Rizembool!"
Izumi stared at him for a moment before choking back a laugh and speaking under her breath, "Boys… I don't know what I'd do with you if you were a gir-"
She stopped, startled by a sense that would turn on like a red alarm in the back of her mind whenever someone was watching. Izumi's gaze drifted to her left, searching for what set her off. Finally, she caught a fair face and a pair of eyes that quickly vanished behind the dark hair of a young girl fidgeting on an adjacent bench. She watched her for a few moments as her hands nervously wove in and out of her skirt ends. Frowning, Izumi dismissed the peering girl, leaned back in the bench and closed her eyes. Children are innocent enough.
The metal roof over the train station was both a blessing and a curse. It was kind enough to keep the sun out. Spring was in full swing and summer was threatening to show up a little early. The traveling pair would admit to themselves that they were each a little cranky and overtired, having barely slept in the bouncy overnight train ride, and to have been stuck outside under the sun on a clear, bright day just wasn't very appealing. Then again, the metal roof did a fantastic job of trapping the daytime heat and roasting the protected contents like a slow cooking oven. At least there was a semi-potent draft.
The exhaustion from the sleepless night caused time to skip and in what felt like mere moments after her eyes had fallen the boarding call came over the broadcast system. The shrill noise jolted Izumi's attention and she pulled herself uncomfortably to her feet. She put a hand to the back of her tense and sore neck, giving a shout out for Alphonse. The child's voice echoed back and she could hear his distinct footsteps pounding along the platform towards her. Reaching for the luggage dumped at her feet, Izumi once again took notice of the teenage girl, this time she headed down the staircase towards the train's platform. The teacher could only puzzle over it, the girl was trying so hard to be discrete that it was nothing more than painfully obvious for her to pick up on.
With a grin, Al snapped up his luggage and bound down the stairs once again, filtering into the crowds of people shuffling along.
"Al! Stay close by!"
He stopped as requested, unwillingly dancing around as he moved in place to get out of the way of the portions of crowd that was still moving. Frowning, Alphonse rolled his eyes, "She's being so over protective… mom wasn't so-"
"Oh, she's not your mother?"
The interrupting voice caught Al's attention. His startled expression turned to the female voice standing next to him. It was the girl again, but for Alphonse it was the first time he'd noticed her. She almost looked surprised at herself that she'd actually said something aloud. The two stared in silence at each other for a moment before she bowed her head, embarrassed, and looked away. Her prominent blue eyes glanced around nervously and lost in the feet of those who passed by.
Al finally caught himself staring at her and quickly snapped to his senses, "Um, no she's not," he suddenly lit up his voice with his natural brightness, "she's… been kinda like a mother though."
It wasn't the easiest topic for him to discuss and Alphonse wondered if maybe his sudden inflection had sounded too contrived. There was still unease for him about the topic of his relationship with Izumi, and then to reference that against his mother was something he was not entirely sure how to handle. As he was now, the sensation of his lost mother, though many years past, was a memory that seemed not even a year old. For everyone around him, time had graciously healed many wounds, but Al's young memories had been ripped wide open with razors and then dusted with salt. It was an uncomfortable feeling he tried desperately to cover up.
He shook it off and looked back at her puzzled, allowing himself to wonder where the question came from. The silence between the two grew longer and larger and Alphonse began to wonder if he was even supposed to comment further. Again he was staring, watching as her hair bounced around her arms while people brushed past. He seemed caught by how the morning sunlight entered her eyes from between the cracks in the roof and he did not understand why it felt as though it wasn't he who was supposed to say something else, but she.
Desperately, curiously, wanting to say something else.
Al's gaze slowly shifted towards his feet. They'd both stopped moving and regardless if they were children or not, the crowd around them would have none of it and both suddenly found themselves shoved by those around them. Suddenly, Alphonse heard her voice again.
"I'm sorry, it's not something you want to talk about. I'm sorry I brought it up."
Al put his smile up for her, "No, it's fine, don't feel bad for tha-" he choked as he was shoved aside by a man much taller than he. He turned to reorient himself, but from the corner of his vision, Alphonse saw the girl get sucked away into the flowing crowd. Without being able to process what the heck had just happened with that strange moment in time, the young Elric found himself lurching backwards, not by his own choice. Izumi had grabbed him by the back of his shirt.
"You're having hearing problems today!" she barked, giving an open-palmed pat square in the center of Alphonse's back, "you'd think that everyone on this platform was in a fire drill. It's not like the train is too small for everyone, but they push and shove like they'll be left behind."
"Maybe you should sleep on the train," Alphonse looked up at his teacher, using his mother's concerned gaze to look back at her – it seemed to work so well on everyone.
Now part of the passenger crowd-flow, Izumi shuffled along, Al following at her side. She looked at him with a half grin before ruffling his hair, "If I'd wanted to sleep on the train, I would have gotten us tickets for the front car."
Cursing, Edward scrambled to pick up the papers he'd dropped on the floor. The bumps on this train ride were becoming more troublesome and grossly annoying.
"You'd think they could at least put a little effort into repairing the tracks properly. The war's been over for years," he snorted, having barely gotten a third of his papers re-organized – the rest just thrown about the private cabin. He narrowed an eye when a knock came at the door.
Ed stepped thru his mess of papers to flip the lock, "Yes?"
Regardless of the rough ride, this particular train line service was one of the best. It had stopped surprising Edward that all of the concierges on this train were so proper, including this nicely painted, middle-aged, female attendant standing at his door, "You requested earlier, that since we were not stopping in Reichenhall, to know when we entered Austria."
"Ah yes, thank you," Edward was about to close the door on her, but a question caught him and he turned a confused look back to the woman, "Isn't it Czechoslovakia?"
The woman's expression was empty as she gave an answer, "The world keeps changing. I think Czechoslovakia is the division to the north, not the south. I'm Swiss, Sir, I haven't had much of a chance to keep up."
"Its fine, forget I mentioned it," He scratched his head vigorously, muttering to himself as he pushed the door shut, "doesn't matter anyways."
Edward sat down on the floor of his train cabin. Disgusted with himself, all he could really do was use his right arm as a paperweight. Muttering to himself, he brushed the shoe print marks off of his papers. Over time, he had gotten use to the paralyzed sensation of his right arm that clanked around him as he moved. It was an unsightly metal decoration he hid under his clothing.
The curtains to the room were pulled wide to allow the daytime to flow in. From the floor, he gazed up towards the window. The mid-day light should have been enough to engulf him and fill everything with noontime. But, the sunlight never seemed to illuminate anything like he remembered. It was always muted, not to the point of being grey or monotone, but just enough so that nothing was ever vibrant. He stared out the window into the smoky-blue sky that held no clouds. His expression relaxed as he sat back on his knees; his shoulders fell and mind emptied. His eyes shut and without realizing it, he'd lost track of the world around him.
The train hit another mangled section of track and he jiggled around the floor, smacking his chin against the seat.
Edward snapped his eyes back open. Brushing his bangs from his face, Ed looked at the papers tossed about carelessly on the floor, again, "Damn it!" He briskly swept up his papers and began stuffing them into envelopes, "Why I can't ever get anything done on these damned trains," his eyes shot across the floor, "Can't loose that," he grabbed his Vienna transfer information tucked it into his chest pocket, "Last thing I need to do is get lost in Austria."
Al twitched in his place, crossing his legs as he slouched in his seat. He reached out and put a hand on his kneecap while putting his chin in the other hand.
"What…?" Izumi spoke in a dull monotone.
"Nothing," Al replied, mimicking her disinterest.
"What…?" Izumi repeated, not changing to voice she'd used earlier.
"I need to go to the washroom," squirming a bit, Alphonse didn't need to look at her; he could feel the annoyed aura that flared up.
"I told you, you should have gone-"
"I know what you said!" he interjected, quickly wishing he hadn't.
"Don't cut me off when I am talking to you!" Izumi exploded like a bolt of lightning, standing up from her seat. Al withered into his seat, chirping out apologies as she loomed over him.
Izumi attention lurched over her shoulder and Al peered out from the ball he'd curled up in.
Clenching her fists, the girl from the train platform straightened her knee-length, mauve dress and pulled her hair over her shoulders. Though her hands were clenched tight, her arms couldn't hold firm enough to hide her nerves, "I'm sorry, but your voice bothers me."
Amongst the three, an awkward silence hit like a heavy, old gong, with a ringing that vibrated long after the strike had fallen to create the sound. Or in this case, lack there of. It took her a moment to realize just how rude her statement had sounded right then and there, but if it wasn't taken out of context, it wasn't rude at all and entirely true.
Izumi slowly turned around, the exhausted dark circles under her eyes gave a rather demonic look to her expression, "I'm sorry young lady, but pardon me…?"
Taking a startled a step backwards, the girl choked, "I…"
"Where are your parents?" Izumi snarled, "Do they know you speak to your elders this way?"
The girl raised her hands in front of herself in defense, "I wasn't talking about you," her eyes shifted beyond Izumi, "I was talking about him."
"You're the girl from the platform," Al came to his feet, saddling up beside his teacher.
Izumi allowed herself to deflate but held a suspicious look over the girl as though to keep her at bay. She had been the one who'd tried so hard to eyeball them at the platform, Izumi had known that the moment she'd heard her voice, "So, beyond the apology you're going to give in thirty seconds, did you have any particular reason for watching us all morning?"
"Oh…" she looked down at her feet, her jaw remaining firm. She had really hoped they hadn't seen, "I didn't mean to stare, but something's been bothering me since I came through the turnstiles. I'm confused and I'm sure my memory isn't wrong. At least, not that wrong. Something's not adding up but I don't know what."
Izumi put her shoulder to the wall of the car, shifting her balance to the side of the train. She thought a moment, wondering if she was just too tired for that to have made any sense, or if it honestly just didn't make any sense, "Come around and have a seat."
The girl slid out of her seat assignment and around to eagerly take the invite. Quickly sitting down again and brushing her dress smooth, she shifted her attention back to Alphonse, watching as he sat back down, "Sorry, I didn't mean to sound so rude."
"You had something to ask me back at the station, didn't you?" Al blurted unintentionally. He hadn't realized how much the question had been festering in the back of his mind. He'd been so curious and never considered for a moment that he'd get the chance to find out what had been missed on that platform. The question had simply been filed away to be forgotten.
Izumi looked over to Al, "Alphonse, do you know her?"
Al shook his head, "No, but we talked on the platform," he looked over to her again.
"Oh…" the teenager frowned a bit as she scratched her cheek, brushing her dark hair over one shoulder, "I guess it couldn't have been you anyways, you're not right at all," she was, again, unintentionally abrupt. And she couldn't help but examine Alphonse, run his name over, his voice over, and compare it all to a memory, "but still… just… um, do you have a brother? Is his name Ed?"
Al heard the words in his head like her voice was calling to him from outside a sealed jar. The distorted sounds that could reach him echoed around his mind like they were trapped in the barrel of an oil drum.
"Edward Elric? I think he's an alchemist. Are you? Maybe you don't?"
Al stared in her direction, but could not see her anymore. His mind was elsewhere and the train car no longer vibrated beneath him. The breeze from the window that had been playing with the loosest ends of his hair ceased to exist and finally the clouds stopped their merry travel in the crystal blue sky.
Izumi promptly cut the line of communication that had begun to strangle Al, "Why do you ask?" she chose to smile for the question, crossing her legs and lacing her fingers around the highest kneecap.
The girl looked away from Al, uncertain how she should react to his sudden detachment, "Something like five or six years ago, two alchemists were in our town, when I lived in the county next to the train station where we got on. It was two boys, I guess not much older than me, but I'm certain their names were Ed and Al Elric."
Izumi slowly exhaled as the girl continued.
"It was something that was kind of hard to forget. After they left, my dad heard that one the boys who'd helped me ended up becoming a State Alchemist, but…" she looked to Al again, hoping he'd pulled himself back together, "your voice… I could have sworn you were supposed to be at least six feet tall. It was so unforgettable: this big suit of armour and little boy's voice." she raised her arms above her head almost to remind herself how it felt to be in that towering presence, "and I would have thought after 5 years and being so tall that your voice would have changed like boys voices do. I never ever thought I'd hear it again," her arms fell into her lap and she neatly clasped her hands, "See, it makes no sense."
Izumi leaned back, lifting her arms to hang off the back of the seat, "Five years changes a lot. And you're right, it doesn't make a lot of sense. I'm pretty sure you have the wrong person," her voice had softened up to the wise voice of a teacher that had so often given a couple of boys enough information for more than one lifetime, "this boy is my son, Alphonse Curtis, he's my only child. I'm sorry dear."
The girl shifted uneasily in her place and allowed her eyes to narrow ever so slightly. She began brushing her dress smooth again, "I'm sorry to have bothered you like this. Thank you though."
"I'm curious. What's your name?" Izumi smiled her mother's smile, "and don't apologize. If you weren't observant, then I doubt your parents would let you travel alone, would they?"
"Klose," she replied, again brushing her hair behind her shoulders as though it was a nervous habit, "and my dad sent for me. He's already in Central. I don't really have anyone who can take me there, so I'm okay to go on my own. He said he trusts me. Dad would come home if he could but the terms are he can only get leave in Central. He left me with train tokens if I wanted to visit."
Not allowing her distain for the topic to enter her voice, Izumi made sure to keep their conversation going, "Ah, your father's in the military?"
Klose nodded, "He signed on about 6 months ago. He didn't want anything to do with the military recruitment before the government fell. He despised the thought of what had gone on in Ishibal and Lior, but there was really nothing he could do about any of it. He volunteered when he was given the chance to help the people rebuild, kind of like his way of showing support for the progress the country is trying to make," the more she spoke, the more she seemed to glow from ear to ear, proudly talking about her father the peacekeeper and not war monger, "A few squadrons were sent to aide Ishibal in their rebuilding process and my father was part of that team. The squads have been rotated, so he's back in Central for a while, and now I get to visit."
So much had changed in the world over the last few months.
Izumi smiled at her, "Your father is a good man."
"Thank you, but," Klose put her hands on her knees, pushing up to her feet, "I'm sorry, I should go back to my seat. I shouldn't have bothered you with any of this."
"It's fine and stop being so sorry," Izumi grinned for her, waving a hand as the girl moved swiftly back up to her ticketed seat.
Though, as Klose spun herself into her seat, out of the sight of Izumi's prying eye, her arms firmly folded across her chest and she flung her right knee over the left. She wasn't convinced, not in the slightest, that she was mistaken.
Izumi took her focus away from the child who'd retreated from their space. There was a more pressing issue that needed to be dealt with, the one that sat next to her.
"Al?" Izumi spoke quietly, "Al?" she nudged him lightly. His frozen expression trained on his faint reflection in the train window. Izumi reached an arm around him but Alphonse rolled his shoulders in refusal. More stubborn than an eleven-year-old, she reached her arm around again, this time rather than having the boy at his shoulders, she wrapped the arm around his neck. Though he tried to duck away from her, Izumi too her other hand and slid her fingers up the side of his face and into his hair. She held him there, tucked into her side. Nothing was said. Izumi shifted, pulling him tight into the curve of her side, resting his head in the space at her shoulder, along her collar bone. She put her chin down into the soft bed of hair and talked to him silently through the brush of her fingertips in a way that she knew her words couldn't reach.
It was such a festering, open wound that just did not want to shut. Izumi tried to be the strong, stern teacher that she'd established, but for Alphonse, and for this, she just preferred to be the soothing mother figure that she was scarcely allowed to be.
Al's distant voice emerged, "I remember when we sat out back with Roze and her baby; she told me the story about the Priest in Lior. She told me about Scar and Dante, she told me about a lot of things she knew. It was so unbelievably bizarre. The story had so much of me in it, but I couldn't remember any of it. It was just a story with my name in it; nothing more. I feel like I have more in common with Den."
He took a moment to breathe and suddenly felt light headed. Izumi waited silently, allowing him to speak whenever he was ready, without interruption.
"When I woke up, Roze was there and she was the first one I saw. By the time I'd heard more stories, I'd already felt like I knew Roze in some way. She'd taken me home, she could speak to me about things we'd done together and her voice meant something. There was an understanding about me when I talked with her; I didn't feel so out of place," Alphonse's hands began to fiddle with zipper on his jacket. He jerked the head sharply up and the bottom length of teeth, "But no matter how many times they told me, everything they said just wasn't real. It was real, it had happened to me, but it wasn't real."
Everyone in Alphonse's current life knew that he'd felt that way, even if he rarely voiced it.
"They would leave and it was like closing a book; you put it down and the story stops. The only thing that made it real was when I looked at Winry and could see how old she was," Al shifted in his place, relaxing in Izumi's arm, wishing for no one to see him, "I looked at her like she was just some girl on the train, nobody special to me. But, she could look at me like I was someone that meant something to her. I didn't realize I was supposed to have cared, or that I should have known," he stopped for a moment, quieted by how tight Izumi's grasp on him had gotten, "she can tell me about me and my brother; some part of that storybook life that I can't convince myself is real. I can't remember it. She's the only one here now who remembers us and how we were on those days we'd met. And the only thing I could remember about her when she sat down…" Al trailed off, his voice unsuccessful in its attempt to remain emotionless as possible.
Izumi glanced down to Al, unable to see his face, "What could you remember?" she asked quietly.
"That I liked how her eyes looked in the sunlight when she stood at the station. Nothing else."
Edward hung out the train cabin window. The vehicle had parked at a station for half an hour for passenger turnover and some track adjustment down the line. His cheek resting on the rusty metal frame, "It's so hot in here… is it supposed to be this hot in August? There has to be something wrong with this country."
He whined bitterly to himself; his jacket, vest and shoes thrown in a heap in the corner of the room. The hotter the weather got on this train ride, the hotter his arm got and that just made things worse. Edward and his father were not AutoMail engineers, but with their heads put together from what they'd observed of the Rockbells over many years, the heavy metal arm was the best either of them could come up with. Edward had given up cursing the stiff arm some time ago; it was almost a lost cause. Right now the only thing he seemed to be interested in was a passing thought on whether or not the temperature would make the paint run on the Danube station sign. Ed adjusted his ponytail having mastered the one and a half arm technique of doing so. He yanked it higher to keep his hair off the back of his neck. Relaxing on the window's edge, he wasn't given enough time to feel any peace before a little voice poked him in the face from the platform below.
Ed didn't even bother to open his eyes, "Shoo kid."
"I have Weiner Tagblatt, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Angewandte Chemie, Weiner Zeitung! Come on! They're only a spot!"
Edward swung his left arm out freely and used the tips of his fingers to flick the child's oversized hat askew, "I told you to shoo, didn't I?" He cracked an eye open at the feeble skeleton of a child. A trail of sweat ran down his face. The skin stretched on the child's body seemed to be a more pale grey than any shade of pink. The child's wide eyes stared back at him desperately; the healthiest thing about it seemed to be the determination to sell a single newspaper.
Ed picked his head up slowly from the ledge, "Your papers are all German. I can't take them through all the places I'm going. Sorry."
"Zeitung isn't!" The child shoved a thin and scrunched publication into Ed's face, "It's from Vienna! I promise."
Ed put a scowl on and fell back into his cabin room. Moments later reappearing as he tossed a few coins to the feeble child, "I'll take that, go away."
The child tossed the paper up to Edward as he marched away, continuing along his daily pilgrimage of the train's platform, "Thank you for your patronage!" he called back.
Ed blinked, "Patronage?"
Shaking his head, Ed uncoiled the paper and promptly slit his eyes at the front page of the publication. An eyebrow twitched as he scowled at the newsprint, "It's old…" he scratched his head vigorously as he tossed the paper aside, "Damn, I'm tired of reading about what new province or boarder they're making up for whomever. I'll read an Austrian paper next year, maybe by then they'll decide what part of the country to leave Vienna in."
He flung himself down on the seat and sprawled out as best he could. Ed sank a bit into the light cushioning and shut his eyes. There was that overly entertaining thought again: Goddard's works. His mind could feverously run through Goddard's works and manipulate his theories to some glorious advantage – something which had become a boredom ritual for him.
Edward Elric had refused, outright refused, to accept his existence as it was. There was somewhere else he had to be. There was a place to return to. Yet, as he lay there, the harder he thought about Goddard's works, the more his concentration drifted and the more an abused, distorted and painful memory played again in his mind.
His cheek twitched at a faint sound.
Again his cheek twitched and he cracked a slit into his eyes. The tiring exercise of a miserably endless train ride had created a large cloud in his minds eye. Through it, he stared at a woman's familiar face. He accepted it as if it were not out of place and rubbed his eye lightly before continuing to float around freely.
"Are you okay?"
His eyes never opened wide enough for him to take in his surroundings, but he could have sworn the voice sounded exactly like Roze. Through his eyelids he could see the bright lights beating down on his body. He knew where he was without concern for the memory of a dance floor he lay on. He rolled his head more in the direction of the voice, feeling an unforgiving weight keeping him down, "what?"
He tried to open his eyes wider and clear the smog that would not disperse, "what… what about Al?" his arm shot forward, grabbing at the foggy image, his voice rising, "WHAT about Al!"
"SIR!" screamed the attendant standing over him, scrambling backwards.
Edward froze in place, staring back at the female attendant in horror. It took him a moment to dismiss the delirium of the heat and he hurriedly released her shirt collar, "I…" he staggered to his feet, "I apologize for that, I'm… not paying attention. It's hot."
The attendant stepped back from him, "I'll bring you more water," her voice tried not to quiver, "the heat isn't good for everyone."
"Thank you," he said in a distant voice, brushing the soggy hair off his sweaty face.
"Have your pass ready, Sir. We're departing right away."
"Of course," Edward reached into his pocket and fished out his ticket. His eyes returned to the window, to find something, anything, in the sky to calm his shaken thoughts.
"Wow…." Al's eyes widened, "There are so many people here, so many trains; Central is huge!" his widened, shimmering eyes could have lit up an entire room and if he wasn't careful, his gaping mouth would take in flies.
"This is only the train station in the city, everything comes through here," Izumi rolled her head around on her neck, letting it crack a few times. The back of her mind was begging for a proper bed so she could have this day to end, "pick up your bags!"
Alphonse snapped them up, "Sensei! Are we staying somewhere? Are we going to look around the city?" the young man's energy drew out a slue of questions, "Central's bookstores are full of Alchemy books, aren't they? We should see what's new, maybe they can help us! Oh, and Winry gave me a shopping list. Can I see if I can get her stuff here instead of in Rush Valley?"
Izumi's tired eyes rolled, wishing she could share his amusement but too tired to do so, "You certainly don't stay upset for long", she muttered to herself, "I called for a motel room when we missed the train at our transfer station. We have to stay overnight anyways so there's no rush. The next train to Dublith doesn't leave until the day after tomorrow."
"Yes!" Al bounced with a light fist pump.
Izumi swung a free arm forward, "Use that energy to find us a lift. If all these people take cabs, then we'll have to walk," she had barely finished her sentence before Al was off, ten strides ahead of her.
'I wish we didn't have to stay here at all.'
Lagging under exhausted weight, Izumi followed behind.
'I don't like the idea of us being here. As if Drachma causing headaches along the route won't be problem enough for us, I don't need to be recognized here. We don't need that problem.'
She began her slow accent up the station stairs, trying not to drag her feet as she moved. Izumi looked up as she reached the top of the stairs. Al had stopped no more than thirty meters ahead, his bags on the ground at his feet. She narrowed her eyes at the scene in front of her, "Isn't that interesting."
"It's good that you have time off to spend with your daughter!" Al beamed as he brushed a wave of hair out of his face.
"Where did you say you were going again? Dublith?" Klose's father tapped his chin, his military jacket unbuttoned to accommodate the heat, "I think I had a cousin once who lived there…"
Al nodded affirmatively, "We are. But, we have to wait a few days until the next train heads down that way. We've found a motel for now."
Klose ran her fingers thru the ends of her hair, "Papa, I don't think they'll have much luck getting a decent ride this time of day. Couldn't we drop them off?" she offered.
Al protested with an emphatic wave of his hands, "No, don't do that. We'll be fine!"
"We'll be fine with what?" Izumi stepped up behind Al, putting a hand on his shoulder, eyeballing the pair in front of them, "Good afternoon."
"Papa, this is Al's mother, Ms. Curtis," Klose gave a skewed smile as she motioned to Izumi.
Al blinked at that and Izumi gave a slight bow of her head, "I hope my boy isn't holding you up Ms. Klose… and… Sergeant Klose…"
Her father snorted before giving a laugh at the address, "I'm property of my own daughter now? How disgraceful," the sergeant clapped his hands together twice to clear the air, "it isn't an intrusion Alphonse, I'd be delighted to take you and your mother to your lodge. Besides, if it's your first time in Central, you should be shown the some of the highlights of the city, if you have the time to look around? People's first impressions of this massive city are usually quite overwhelming. You shouldn't put an opportunity like this to waste. We should stop for something to eat along the way."
Izumi frowned slightly, rather uneasy with the situation setting in, "I really don't think we should impose on you like this…"
Klose was again analyzing Izumi's movements; her gut feeling telling her to be suspicious, yet entirely unsure as to why, "No really, we insist." Curiosity was getting the better of her and she allowed Izumi to pick up on the lack of honest concern in her voice. Izumi was not given a chance to eye the girl in return before her father again insisted upon being their escort.
Izumi looked downwards to Al before taking her attention to the Sergeant, "I suppose it would be an honour to have one of the military's finest show us around."
Edward repeatedly flipped his pocket watch open and closed - an action he'd had as boredom ritual since he was twelve-years-old. He repeated the action countless times, his mind unable to focus on any one particular thought, again losing track of his surroundings. What had feeling like a full day's worth of boredom in Vienna had actually been merely an hour under their sun. Ed shook his head to wake himself up, paying little attention to the crowds of people passing him by – that was until someone stepped into his sunlight.
"That's a very lovely watch? Who's your craftsman?"
Edward looked up into the face of a bright young woman, probably not more than a few years older than himself, he figured. She tilted her head waiting for a response. Ed snapped the watch shut and responded blankly, "I made the design, but one of my Father's associates had it crafted for me."
The presumptuous woman sat down next to him on the rickety station bench, her short brown curls bouncing around her face, "I've never seen that sort of insignia before, but if I were to guess, I'd say it looks like its military of some sorts. Is it a war token? Are you a soldier?"
Edward stared on at her confused to why she'd suddenly engaged him. The woman had a fragrant mystique to her and by how she'd carried herself, even in the short moments Ed had seen her, he could tell she was some sort of curious busybody.
She was dressed quite fine. Her knee length tan jacket was tied perfectly at the middle and her hat sitting slightly askew to allow her spiral-curls to bounce enthusiastically on just the one side. The tops of her high-heeled boots hid beneath the lengthy deep brown dress that peeked out from beneath her jacket as she crossed one leg over the other. In a mockingly dainty manner, she clasped her hands carefully over her knee and peered into Edwards business with her eyes a little more.
"Well," Ed paused. There was a contrived response he'd created to explain the watch, why he'd had a replica of his State Alchemist watch forged for himself here, but it seemed lost on him today, "kind of but not really, it's more of a personal keepsake for an old friend."
The woman's eyes widened, "Oh that's sweet, what a nice thing to do for a friend. Did they die in the war?"
"Huh?" Ed's mouth hung open while he unwound his confused look, unsure about how she mangled his statement into that conclusion.
"I understand how that is," she continued on, "its fine craftsmanship, the edging, the lines. I could tell from a distance it was something exquisitely made. You must have used the finest silver for it. How does it work? Do you wind it? Is it automatic?"
Edward suddenly chilled over at the woman's line of questioning. He clenched his hand tightly over the watch and stuffed it back into his pocket, wiping away a trickle of sweat running along his hairline, "What's your name?"
"Me?" The woman seemed unfazed by Edward's sudden change in behaviour, continuing to smile as if she'd been hoping all along for the topic to come up, "Mathilde. And what might yours be?"
"Edward," He examined the woman over carefully, looking for some clue that would reveal what business she had with him, "Do I know you from somewhere?"
Mathilde re-crossed her legs and leaned back upon the bench they shared, "I'm not certain. Are you from Schässburg? Have you ever been there?"
Ed frowned, not liking the counter-questioning and disliking even more her one choice of cities to ask him about, "I haven't, but I'm heading there," his hand still gripped the watch stuffed in his pocket.
Her tone was so ridiculous in Edward's ears. She'd sounded like this flamboyant cabaret dancer he'd been forced to converse with while out with acquaintances one night. Her words were forced, she sounded contrived and he could have sworn she was just there to be obnoxious.
"Well then, if you were traveling 'from', instead of traveling 'to', my question would have been more helpful to us," the woman tapped her chin lightly as if she were playing a game, "how about Munich? Have you ever been there?"
"I live in Munich," he replied flatly.
Unfazed by Edward's lack of enthusiastic participation in her conversation, she continued on, "Oh! Have you ever been to the University there? I've had a number of friends attend there. Best education the country has to offer!"
Edward narrowed his eyes at suspicious nature of her questions, "My Father teaches there."
"Does he really?" by mistake, Mathilde allowed her honestly surprised response to come through in her voice, throwing a curve ball into Edwards court – he'd been thinking she'd been playing him from the start, "he must be a great man to be a professor at Munich's University. Goodness, what's his name?"
"Why…?" Ed responded, unable to release his eye of suspicion cast over the woman. His hand released the pocket watch and emerged from him his pocket to brush the beads of sweat from his forehead.
"You're quite rude to girls, has anyone ever told you that?" Mathilde falsified anger as she chirped back at him, "it's no wonder you have no traveling companion." She stood up sharply and straightened her jacket, "why on earth would someone like you head to my home town? I can guarantee the bordello owners will kick you out if you disrespect the service. You aren't big enough to stand up against thos-."
A vein snapped upon Edward's forehead and he shot up like a fire cracker, "Who-are-you-calling-so-short-that-no-one-can-see-ME?"
Mathilde paled. Her eye twitched slightly as she took a step backward, "Um..."
Edward thrust a finger into her face, his deep, demonic voice booming out, "I've grown."
"Tily!" a man's voice called from the distance. It cut Ed off before he could continue, "We're boarding!"
"I'll be right there!" the woman called, stepping back from a fuming Edward. Her playful expression fell away and she looked upon him with the eyes of a woman mature beyond her age, "I hope you find what you're looking for in Schässburg. There have been some problems with rebel groups since we became Rumanians. Keep alert, won't you?" She spun upon her toes, tossing her hair from her face and pranced away.
Edward watched, mouth half open as she ran off into the crowds of people, "What on earth…" he slowly rose his hand to his forehead with a sigh. The chain from his watch hung from his jacket pocket and clattered on the bench as he sat down again.
"Wow…" Al exhaled as he gazed down the street.
Kloze folded her arms with delight, "The Open Market Fair began a few days ago. All sorts of little shops, more than usual, selling everyone's best products are out! Food, clothes, sweets and candy, toys and games and gadgets for that girlfriend you were talking about; you can find them all here! "
Al's eyes widened in a childish horror, "Winry is not my girlfriend."
"Awww," Klose teased as she walked along with Al into the market, "she sounds so sweet though."
"Winry is six mo-years older than me!" he caught himself in his sentence, "it doesn't work!"
"Well fine, she can be a big sister then," Klose's attention suddenly drew away, and her eyes darted out to the side, "that is so pretty!" she turned on a dime and slid herself thru the pedestrian traffic towards a both.
The two of them had been set loose in the market place after they'd entertained lunch at one of the many sprawling outdoor cafés. A few blocks away from the shopping chaos, Klose's father had introduced the group to a patio diner. The children had spent the dinner hour chattering about the amount of traffic they could see entering and exiting the market lined with streamers and decorative knickknacks. The children had finally persuaded both guardians to relent and allow their children loose upon the facility for fifteen minutes before they were to return and go in as a group.
"H-hey!" Al pushed past people bumping his small stature aside, trying to reach Klose. The dirt path was soft and muddy beneath his feet – an unfortunate reminder of the rain the night before. Al slid awkwardly, his feet wanting to proceed in alternate directions. A man's firm hand came upon his shoulder and pushed him aside and Al landed hard, with his hands and knees embedding into the mud. Regaining his composure as quickly as he could, Al shot a glare up to a six-foot tall man who simply gave an empty, uncaring stare down at him. His square jaw and chin were held high and tight while the momentary exchange of looks came over the man's raised cheekbone. The sun-tanned face turned away from Al, his two right earrings refracting the filtered sunlight as he left.
Al muttered to himself as he stumbled out of the way of the traffic, which never ceased to be continually in motion. Wiping the mud from his hands onto his jeans, he staggered to Klose who promptly held up her new possession wrapped in a plain paper bag, "the feathers won me over!"
"…Feathers?" Al's face fell slightly and he tipped his head.
"It's a pen! It looks like a dip pen, but it can store the ink in its body too. Here watch," grabbing Al by the wrist, Klose pulled him to the side of the booth to escape the traffic and put on a demonstration. Brushing the booth's cloth-overhang aside, she placed the paper bag down and quickly pulled out a polished, black, fat pen stem with a shining new nib that she slipped into the tip. A pair of purple feathers, one darker than the other, decorated the end of the pen.
She produced an ink jar put the black ink on the edge of the table, "See you dip it in the ink jar like so and just wait a few seconds. It'll suck it right up."
When Alphonse didn't respond in any way, Klose looked up confused. Alphonse had been bubbling with words since they'd entered. But something had his attention, and Al stared right past her, deep behind the stone-building backdrop of the sales booths, no longer listening to what she had to say.
"Huh?" he blinked back into reality, "sorry."
"Okay," she grabbed Al's right hand and held his palm open between them, "then you simply take the pen and you can draw fluid circles over and over. Not as scratchy as a regular dip pen."
In the palm of his hand she began to run the pen. Al watched for a moment, thought he wasn't paying attention; his mind was distracted. He looked away from his and her art, again his attention carried behind the booths and vanished into the alleyway between two buildings. Something was moving around down there, he was certain. He thought, perhaps it was a cat, but it seemed a little too big.
"Huh?" he again shot his attention back to Klose.
Klose frowned at him as Al, "What are you looking at?" she gave him his hand back and turned over her shoulder to look down the alley as well. She narrowed her eyes in an attempt to define the dark, grey objects that lay in the shadows, "what? I see garbage cans."
Al stepped further away from the crowds and deeper into the backdrop, picking up Klose's bottle of ink from the table as he moved, "I thought I could see something moving."
Klose placed her hands upon her hips, "Cats and dogs like old garbage cans. They're too scared to come out with all these people. I don't see anything moving though, maybe you're just tired?"
"No really…" Al moved forward towards the alley, "I saw something odd, I'm sure." He stopped at the alley's entrance, placing his right hand upon the aging wall.
"Cats and dogs, Al," Klose offered again.
Al shook his head, "This was too big."
"Coyotes don't come this far into the city," Klose stopped in mid-motion, the shadows finally moving for her. Whatever it had been, it had darted down deeper, towards the end of the alley and around the corner of the building lost in darkness. Klose froze in step as a chill ran down her back. Al stepped back, bumping into her. The two exchanged nervous glances before Klose's resolve set back in.
"I've never been afraid of ghosts," she placed a hand on Al's shoulder. The two took a deep breath and stepped into the alley.
Al stayed half a stride ahead of her, clenching his left hand around the bottle of ink as they walked quietly into the darkness, his right hand trailing along the wall as if to make sure he could keep his sense of direction. He could hear the faint echo of their soggy footsteps as they stepped into the thin, low layer of mist that lived above the ground; another remnant from the rain in the evening prior. Al gingerly stepped around a line of trashcans and garbage bags at the wall and looked back to see how Klose was dealing.
Klose's attention was focused dead ahead, though a hint of worry was smeared across her face as she chewed on her lower lip, "Well, come on," she urged hesitantly, "or do we turn back?"
Al looked past her to the bustling of people beyond the dealer's stand they'd tucked in behind. Through the crowds, he caught the eye of an elder female peddler who operated the stand across the pathway. Alphonse suddenly realized they were somewhere they should not be - the woman firmly adjusted her grey bun upon her head, snatched up the whiskbroom that lay upon the tabletop and slapped it into her hand. Al's eyes widened with concern because the woman was approaching. He quickly wondered just how much trouble he'd get into with Izumi if this elder lady deemed them as troublemakers. When they'd been told to make the most of their 15 minutes, he very much doubted the pair of adults had meant anything like this.
She turned her gaze to follow Al's. Klose had barely been given enough time to recognize the woman as a peddler before the elder lady suddenly jerked violently to the side without a hand touching her. Without getting close enough for the pair to have ever heard her voice, the elder woman toppled to the ground.
Both children's eyes shot wide, neither given enough time to comprehend what had just happened to this woman. With that as the only warning, the children found themselves with their hands flying over their heads as they ducked away from the rapid succession of gunfire echoing off the walls. Without a word to each other, or a scream, they turned and ran down into the darkness of the alleyway.
The children's feet pounding thru the murky layers on the alley floor was heard by no one. Frightened tears clouded their vision as they both slipped to their knees, barely able to keep standing and having tried to take the sharp turn too quickly at the end of the alleyway. Gripping the mud between their fingers, they scrambled on hands and knees through the sludge until they were able to return to a balance upon their feet. Klose slapped her soiled hands over her ears, trying to drown out the sound of the gunfire – the tightly enclosed stone walls amplified the distant sound. Although the sounds of people's screams echoed above all else, the pair only heard the encroaching gunfire. Al remained a stride ahead of Klose and he looked up to another alleyway intersection. Suddenly even more frightened than before, Al skid to a stop, his feet sliding out from underneath him as if he'd just stopped upon a sheet of ice. Klose's right leg caught on his shoulder and she tumbled down to the ground next to him. They felt no pain from their fall and they shot a wide-eyed gaze at each other before staring ahead at the intersection. Klose's hands trembled as she reached back for her ears again, the maddening gunfire and screams never ceasing to exist. Whatever courage they'd entered with lay shattered and soiled in the mud around them.
Shakily, Al began to rise to his feet again, but could not get up off his knees. Klose had begun to curl up – her forehead pressed against the soggy ground. Al reached out and grabbed her upper arm, trying to pull her upright. Her trembling began to transfer to his body and again he looked down the alley.
The world around them changed suddenly and without warning. The next thing either of them realized was the stench they'd suddenly found their bodies lying in. Blown from their position, skimming at great speeds along the ground – they had become projectiles thrown into the garbage bags lining one of the walls, forcefully removed from their positions by an explosion within the building at their right. The trash and waste had cushioned them from a direct impact with the cement wall.
Al shifted within the debris, finding he could move in the mess well enough. Threads of sunlight filtered in around them. He felt Klose move beneath him and whispered to her, asking how she was only to receive a faint acknowledgement. Trying unsuccessfully to move again, Al sank deeper into the waste and mix of unknown debris. He could feel his right side burning in pain from the explosion. Putting his right hand to the side of his head in search of blood, Al examined the findings in his palm through the filtered sunlight and promptly froze. His line of concentration came into unexpected focus. The jar of ink was no longer in his left hand. As carefully as he could, he cleared his palms of the spatters of blood, sludge and mess and turned to face the wall they'd been thrown up against.
"Klose," he said with an affirmative tone.
She tried her best to look up at him, catching only half of the stern expression on his face, "Al?"
He slammed his right palm against the cement wall. Klose shrieked from the light that blinded her and became lost within the noise that engulfed the pair. She tried to curl away. Moments later, Klose felt Al's hand grab her under her arms and pull her forwards, through a hole in the wall. Once clear of the mess, both collapsed upon the cleaner ground; Klose lay upon her back for a moment, gasping for air, looking up at the arched hole in the wall. Parts of concrete and stone wall fell down into the gap where the two once lay. The pair crawled further into the black room of the building, darkened from lack of power.
"I'm okay," Klose spoke to herself as she pulled up to her knees. Both sat in silence of each other's company. Although the noise raged on outside, they could only hear each other's staggered breathing that they attempted to bring under control.
"Klose?" Alphonse finally aired out.
She looked over at him as Al held up his right palm, "Why did you draw this?" his question had a hint of all his circulating emotions, the most prominent being absolute confusion.
Getting to her feet slowly Klose looked down at Al, "I saw your brother draw that once, didn't I?"
Al's expression fell; he looked up at her in the darkness, unsure about the answer he should give. The fear of all that was going on around him seemed to make the topic somewhat easier to want to explain, given the circumstance.
"I only saw it briefly but I never forgot what it looked like. I saw it again in some books I browsed through the first time I came to Central."
Al took his hand back and examined the transmutation circle drawn in his palm, "It's one of the most basic of all circles," looking back up at her, Klose grabbed Al by his wrist and helped him back to his feet.
"Well, then I'm glad you haven't forgotten how to use it," her grin was the brightest thing in the room, though it only shone for a moment.
Al stared at her with an expression hinting of nervousness, unsure if he should explain further. But, there was the more pressing issue of what was going on, where they were and how they would get out.
Klose shook her head, dismissing the lines of thought over her doodle. The personal questions could wait. She turned around in the room, trying not to bump into anything as she looked around for a door, "We need to get out of here."
To Be Continued…
This chapter is "52" because the final episode of the series was 51.
There're too many ways to spell "Rizembool". Even Bones and Arikawa have spelt it differently more than once. This is the spelling I will use.
The official spelling of Klose is "Close" but I'll use the miss-spelt "Klose" version from the fansubs. It's easier to recognize as a name – it just didn't read very well with the proper spelling.
2006-02-04 – I went through and touched up some spelling, punctuation, clarity and sentence structure. I probably didn't catch everything, but I hope it flows a bit better. Maybe someday I'll give these early chapter a full makeover ;) but probably not until I'm finished.
2010-05-30 – I fleshed out the chapter more to my liking and I hope it's well received! I tried to keep its core in tact as much as possible :) it may still be awkward at times or suffer from typos. I don't want to change it up too much or it'll lose my flow on how I've progressed as a writer. Chalk it up to the learning curve for being the first chapter of the very first fanfic I ever wrote! The original version remains in my LiveJournal account and the link for that is in my profile :). Pre-edit word count was 7970, post-edit count is 9,707. Number scrabble, apparently.