He Who Searches For Himself
It was as reclusive and hidden a spot as Ed could find, curled up on the floor beside his bed with the belief that if anyone looked into the room this late at night, they would not suspect a thing from the empty bed. The child's room was silent now, a far contrast from the noise moments before. To preserve this serenity, Ed attempted to hold his breath for as long as he could; occasionally failing in his attempts. He hoped that no one could hear him shivering from an unexplainable chill he could feel over his body. It was his mother that broke the silence, calling his name within the room. The concern in her voice was not a feint to lure him out, yet he was still afraid to face her. He curled up tighter into his little ball, hoping, praying that the feet moving across his bedroom floor would not come close enough to find him.
The voice of his mother was saturated with concern and relief once realizing his location. In the moonlit bedroom in the middle of an open field within Rizembool, Trisha picked up her son as he started to cry.
"Where does it hurt?"
"My head," he choked out, his face buried in her chest. Not wanting to harm his tiny pride any more than her discovery of him had done; Trisha did not ask what had happened. She knew; she also knew the man she would scold for insisting their little boy would not roll out of his first bed. Sitting at the edge of the mattress, Trisha stroked her fingers through his downy soft hair while Edward continued to cling to her, "Mommy I'm cold." His words were given no response; distracted by the reflection Trisha caught in her son's window, she turned slowly over her shoulder, eyes filling with disapproval.
Hohenheim's nervous reaction to the look was apparent in the expression on his face, he knew what she would say the moment they heard the thud on the floor.
"I told you…" her hand continued to smooth over Edward's hair as she delivered the speech, "he was going to fall out if you didn't put a guard of some sort on the side."
Knowing he could not argue the points with his wife, Hohenheim sat down next to her at the foot of the bed. With a kiss to both their foreheads, he offered his apology, "I'm sorry, you were right. Here…" with the light clasp of his hands out of sight from Ed's prying eyes, Hohenheim touched the wooden bed frame to initiate the transmutation that would appease the situation. The couple looked over their shoulders to the light wooden rail that now enclosed the middle portion of the bed.
"I don't want that," Ed's tiny voice spoke out as he peered around his mother to the additions on his bed, "I'm a big boy."
"Yes you are," Trisha encouraged his train of thought, "and even big boys sometimes need help to not fall out of bed. Don't you remember when we were on the train a few months ago? We slept in the cabins and those beds had sides for the even bigger people, like Mommy and Daddy."
Both parents caught the sceptical and teary eyed reaction of their over tired and bruised son. Hohenheim took Edward from Trisha's arms and placed his son, on the verge of tears, upon his knees, "Edward, why are you crying again? I thought you told me big boys don't cry?"
Nothing in the world would give him cause to contradict the fact that he was a big boy, Ed used another excuse to save face, "My head hurts."
"Where does it hurt?"
Ed's hand came up to the left side of his face, covering most of his eye. Hohenheim pulled his son's hand away and took a closer look, "It's just a little red around your eye," his hand softly brushed over the tender part of his boy's upper cheek with a thumb and finger. His other hand cupped the good side of Edward's face and Hohenheim gave the cheek a pat of encouragement, "you'll be better than new when the sun comes up, I promise."
From his perch atop the man's knees, Edward felt his father's warm hand cradle his frozen cheek. The excessive warmth he could feel gave the little body an obvious shiver, which no one noticed. While his parents spoke to each other, Ed began to wonder why his father's hand was heated like that. Distancing himself from their conversation, he softly closed his eyes and tried to absorb the warmth into his body. At the mention of his name in their conversation, Ed felt his father's hand lift and pat him on the cheek yet again. He flinched, cracking his eyes open with the harder pat he received.
Hohenheim's attention returned to his son, noticing how he'd reacted to his hand, "Edward, are you okay?"
Pausing at the odd and overly concerned tone in his father's voice, Edward's puzzled eye watched his father stare back at him, the man's gaze laden with concern. Before long, he felt the familiar warm hand return to his cheek.
"Daddy…?" with curious, wide eyes, Ed's voice came quietly, hoping his father would explain what had him so disconcerted.
The little voice brought a pause to Hohenheim's actions. Nothing was heard; neither sound nor movement was made. Ed simply stared back at his father's humbled expression, uncertain what to make of the soft smile that soon crossed the elder man's face. Hohenheim's warm hand came up and brushed through his young son's curtain of bangs for a few moments before returning to holding the chilled, round cheek once more. Edward's expression relaxed with content; enjoying the undivided attention he was receiving from his father, yet still unable to wrap his boggled mind around any answer. He watched from the corner of his eye as Hohenheim's hand lifted from his cheek to pat him once again.
Chapter 60 – The Warmth Of…
"Come on Edward, wake up," Hohenheim's voice coaxed; his hand connected with Ed's cheek once more, finally carrying enough force to wake him.
Ed rolled his head away from the slap after it made contact. He tried to open his eyes, only to find himself staring through a haze at a brick wall. Not bothering to understand why his left eye wasn't opening, Edward felt the chill again the moment his father's warm hand came to his cheek and turned his head forward.
"Edward, are you okay?" Hohenheim repeated, still leaning over his son.
The list of questions mounted until a layer of fog cleared in Ed's head; realizing he lay upon a cold cement floor, staring up at his father within a poorly lit room. He wondered if there was more to it than that, but couldn't get his mind to concentrate long enough.
"Get moving old man, I'll lock you in here too if you don't get your ass in gear."
"Now you listen here, if you want to keep that tongue of yours…"
Ed winced at the pair of loud, unidentifiable voices now ringing in his ears. For the moment he was able to think about it, something familiar existed in the retaliator's voice. The desperate urge to go back to sleep, despite how easily the cold cement filtered through the back of his dress shirt, kept his mind from focusing on it.
"I need you to sit up," Hohenheim's voice came out far quieter but more clearly than the other men barking at each other. He put a hand at Ed's shoulders and helped him to a sitting position. The sudden change in equilibrium within his head brought Ed's hand to the left side of his face where a concentration of pain existed.
"What the hell…" a viciously pounding headache swept through Edward's skull.
Crouching down at his left side, Hohenheim put his son's clutching left hand on his own shoulder and slipped his arm around Ed's back, "On your feet. Hold onto my shoulder." The moment Hohenheim felt Ed's hand grip onto his shirt, he rose to his feet, pulling Edward up with him.
Swaying off balance by the abrupt change in posture, Ed did not understand why his father was being so careful helping him to his feet. Taking a balancing step towards the man, Edward's left foot never hit the ground. Tumbling off balance into his father's side, Hohenheim's grip tightened around his son as he tried to re-steady him. Uncontrollably, Ed began to shiver.
"I have other things to do than stand here with the goddamn door open. Get the hell out." The angry voice echoed within the cement walls once more.
With a sudden panic, Ed's weakly opened eye glanced around the room; the fog not having cleared enough for him to clearly grasp his surroundings, "Where's my leg?"
"Don't worry about it," Hohenheim's voice did not display aggravation for any event going on within the echoing room, he simply pulled Edward along as the pair staggered to the barred exit doors, "Let's go Rudolf."
Ed connected his confusion for the retaliatory voice to the name his father had called out. His mind consumed by the throbbing headache, Edward did not think about it long enough to wonder what Hess was doing there.
"What's your name?" Hess pointed a commanding finger at the armed cell guard. The two vocal combatants stood in limbo when the officer used the silence to refuse answering the question. Riled by the uncooperative man, Hess' jaw tightened, "Alright you little fu-"
"That's enough." Hohenheim's displeased voice engulfed the hall, silencing Hess and causing Edward to grip tighter in surprise. As the echo of his voice dispersed within the bitterly cold, damp, and dimly lit holding area in the basement of Munich's police headquarters, Hohenheim turned to leave the area, "Let's go Rudolf. There's nothing worth your time down here."
Again, trying to open his left eye unsuccessfully beyond a thin crack, Ed had shifted the majority of his weight to his father's far stronger hold. Glancing over his shoulder the best he could, Ed tried to concentrate his thoughts long enough to figure out what was going on.
The pale afternoon light lay scattered throughout the master bedroom; sneaking in from between the spaces of the lace curtains. The smell of the trees and prized flowers filtered in with the afternoon breeze. The silence so deafening, the birdsong emanating from the trees had been muted.
Standing on the shards of sunlight upon her floor, Gracia's soft voice carried in the room. From beyond her bedside, she could see the ends of sandy blonde hair – as though wanting to be found. Her footsteps did not echo in the room as she swept her toes along the hardwood floor. Coming up to the side of her bed, holding vigil next to Alphonse, who had pulled his legs up to his chest sitting upon the floor, Gracia waited.
"I don't feel good," Al's forehead rested atop his knees, fingers intertwined around the front of his legs.
Gracia swept her skirt behind her legs. Silently, she sat down at the edge of the bed.
"My head hurts sometimes… I'm tired," the voice existed with barely enough energy to sustain life.
Brushing her hand over the soft down-filled comforter, Gracia's voice gently extended an offer, "Do you want to have a nap?"
"I'll still have the feeling later."
"What feeling is that?"
The birds' chirp from the window was a welcome intrusion into the dire sensation Alphonse's silence created. The warm orange shards of sunlight decorating the room began to dance; the breeze from the window touching upon Gracia's back and teasing through the tips of Al's hair. Nature tried to entertain the sorrow.
Gracia slid to her knees upon the floor next to Al, un-tucking her legs to the side as she leaned back against the side of her bed.
"I feel so lost around here. I don't know where Sensei is, I don't know where to start looking for my brother, I don't recognize anyone," as Al finally picked his head up, his eyes looked to Gracia; he simply gave up hiding from her. Holding Gracia's comfortable atmosphere in his eyes long enough to feel at ease within the room, Al put his chin down atop his knees and stared across the floor to the white baseboards, "I'm scared."
Pulling herself up next to Al, Mrs. Hughes untied his fingers from around his legs. Her right arm siding around his shoulder, her left hand came delicately to Al's forehead as she moved him; Gracia tucked him into the care of her right arm.
She was warm; to both the touch and feel of her aura. Al liked how comfortable that made him, "I want to stand on my own two feet and move forward. That's what my brother always did. I've been told that and there is no doubt in my mind he did; that's the way he is. I want to know I can do that too."
Silence followed Al every time he spoke – yet this time, the silence carried a clause. He'd left his thoughts at an unconfident open end.
Though everything about Gracia's presence made him feel at ease, nothing seemed to ease the thought lingering in a darkened and frightening part of his heart, "I should have been the one who died. That's the way it should work; I was dead to begin with."
Uncertain how to deal with a statement such as that, Gracia remained silent.
"Even before that, I could have prevented this," Al's hand came up to rub his cheek, it burned, "I knew it was wrong from the start. It was my fault."
Gracia rested her chin in his soft hair to remind Al she was still here.
"I even died twice."
Until then, Al had retained the strength to keep his words steady. From deep within his body, he could feel the tremble; it resonated in his voice, "I died once for my mother; and it was my brother who brought me back. I had my soul stapled to a metal suit so I could cling to life somehow. He suffered for that; for my sake. I ended up dying again when I used that stone to right a wrong that should never have happened. He's so stubborn and stupid, why couldn't he just let it be; I don't have any right to be alive. I don't want to be alive through someone's sacrifice, especially my brother's."
Gracia was relieved that he allowed her to hold his trembling hands. She sat there; arms wrapped around him, allowing Al the comfort of her presence to gather and calm himself within. Through the tremble in his hands, Gracia could tell how much time he needed in the warm afternoon before either spoke again.
"Do you want to be dead?"
It was an unexpected question Gracia had posed to Al; a state of mind that had never been brought into the picture. The question wrapped up his mind so tightly, the tremor in his body ceased.
"I like being alive," the longer he thought over the statement, the more foolish it sounded. Of course he liked being alive, "I like Resembool, lying in the grass, watching the sky and the clouds, reading alchemy books, helping with the baby, helping Winry, Aunty Pinako, Roze, Sensei…" Al's voice captured the room; there was no debate on the issue, "No. I don't want to be dead."
Though Gracia had not expected a statement to the contrary, Al's definitive tone was a relief, "Neither does anyone else. Hasn't your brother set that example for you, that no one wanted to see you disappear?"
The sweet chime of the Hughes' hallway clock trickled into the room for the bottom of the hour. It was true, wasn't it? Al ran that through his head; that was the example and the purpose. And it was those two things he struggled to rely upon. They were true; and he didn't struggle because he did not believe in everyone's motives, he struggled because he fought to associate himself with the burden of guilt and relentless determination he and his brother had carried for so long. No matter who told him the memories, the impact of the experiences they had gone through had been stripped from him. Yet, that was the underlying principle behind why he lived and breathed upon the floor of the Hughes' master bedroom.
Gracia's gaze traveled up the white wall, her mind's eye carrying a far more vivid image than the simplicity of the room, "You were born, you were raised, you were taught, you were befriended, you were cherished and you were loved. You lived." She shifted, brushing Al's hair from his forehead, "That's why Edward didn't let you disappear, you were too important to him, and all those people along the way."
Al took a moment to process her statements. He enjoyed the way the comments made him feel, but a lingering hurt continued to toil, "Doesn't make it right."
"It doesn't have to be," Al's head picked up at Gracia's words, "It simply has to be true."
It was true, he'd just told himself that. The depression of Al's eyes and disposition lifted as he gazed off into the corner. His line of sight slowly canvassed the room, taking nothing more in than the words Gracia had spoken.
"I want to get him back. I don't want my brother to be only a memory," it was a definitive response, no room for argument or debate; that was the way it was each time one brother chose to look after the other, "there's a catch, and I don't think he's dead."
Gracia's thoughts traveled with Al as he picked himself up and moved on, "Why would you want to bring him back?"
Al finally glanced up to Gracia, as though she'd asked a foolish question, "Because he's my brother, he would do the same for me."
As though to reinforce Al's determination, Gracia challenged his motives, "What if he couldn't… or wouldn't do the same for you, would you still search to bring him back?"
"Yes," Al showed no hesitation in his response.
"What would I do without him?" It was a statement that made obvious sense to Alphonse, why did she ask for justification, "He's my brother."
Entertained by Al's bewilderment of the questions, Gracia couldn't help the refreshing smile that crossed her face, "And he's loved; if by no one else, he's loved by you. Loved, cherished and cared about; he's important. This doesn't make your actions right, but it makes your motivation just as 'true' as your brother's. It's why he deserves to be here. Same reasons he had to believe you deserved to be here."
A light breeze played with the curtains again as Al sat silently in wake of her statement, unable to contest it. The pieces of light danced around the room once more.
"I miss my mom," was all Al's hurt little voice offered, almost as if it were a default statement; a comfort he longed for to make all other factors negligible.
"Your mother raised her children with lots of love in their hearts."
"She'd scold us for everything if she were here now," Al wrinkled his nose and downcast his eyes as he thought about her reaction, "it would make her cry if I had to tell her these things."
"Perhaps," Gracia's hand came up and smoothed over the tiffs of hair displaced by the breeze, "But at the end of the day, she'd be proud of the both of you."
Tilting his head, Al turned a puzzled eye up to Gracia, "Why?"
"Because her boys never gave up on each other."
Searching her eyes for doubt, he found none in either Gracia or himself. He did not want to look hard to dispute that statement, he wanted it to be true. Al rolled his head away and slid out from the warm hold she'd cradled him with. Straightening his shirt as he got to his feet, Al did not wander very far. Gracia glanced up to him as he sat down on the side of the bed; hands clasped in his lap, eyes shifting lightly as he looked down in thought. She followed his cue and got to her feet; standing in wait before Al, Gracia smoothed out the wrinkles in her skirt.
He had no idea where to start or what was known already; so why not start at the beginning.
"I guess it's been seven years since my mom died. I remember it clearly and, for me, it seems like it's not even been two years. The doctor said she was ill for a while, and the disease ended up killing her. It was so hard to deal with; our dad wasn't around, there was Aunty Pinako but… what do we do without mom. We didn't know. It was Ed who suggested we bring her back, I didn't object; we would have given anything… to see…" Al stopped himself, running the completion of his sentence through his mind first.
That was what had given them the strength to move forward the first time, the willingness to give up anything in order to obtain something. That was part of their story Al still remembered.
And he continued on…
"Come in," Hohenheim's voice called out to the knock on his office door. With the creak of the hinges, Karl Haushofer stepped into his associate's office. Relieved by the pleasant surprise, Hohenheim placed his glasses down on his un-graded papers, "How unsettling, usually you're the busy one I'm visiting."
Haushofer laughed at the comment, "Aren't I though? But that's simply because my son doesn't help me out like yours. I haven't an extra set of hands like that," being allowed free reign in the room; the man pulled a chair over to the front of his associates' desk, "it's been good of Hess to help out like he is."
"I haven't the time to fight with the police department to find out what they did with Edward's leg, thank you for exempting him from your lecture so he could do this for me," frustration lingered in Hohenheim's tone, "I can just imagine the trouble that's going to come of the cancellation of my 8am class today."
"No trouble," Haushofer relaxed in the seat, crossing a leg over, "if I were your student, I'd be thankful, not complain and enjoy the respite; you couldn't assign them any homework and those who did not complete theirs have an extra day of grace. With that said, you have less to go over. Why are you still here?"
His arms crossed on the edge of the desk, Hohenheim simply shook his head, "I told you at lunch, I still have work to do."
"I have been up since just after three this morning and you no fewer than ten minutes of that, there is nothing that is left here that cannot be done tomorrow," Haushofer reached to the desk, shutting off the lamp light, "go home."
Flicking the switch back on, Hohenheim engaged in a competition of supremacy stares; knowing what the man was getting at, "Beyond his ill tempered mood, Edward is fine. The engineer he's apprenticing is an excellent physician and is at the house. I don't need to be overseer or babysitter. If you want to run with this logic, why are you still here?"
"Because my son was able to call me and tell me where he was. I had to call you because yours couldn't," Haushofer's brow tightened as he stood up from the chair to lean over the desk, his hand coming down over the paperwork, "these are the same physics assignments you were working on when I took you out for lunch. If you're going to worry yourself, do it at home and stop pretending you're concerned about these."
The suppression of Hohenheim's concern began to fail. His voice echoed the loudest with unease as he began to cave, "If Albrecht hadn't been able to call you I would never have known Edward was there."
"They should have sent him to the hospital. There was no reason for them to leave him in the cell like that," Haushofer's disgust for the situation became apparent by his tone.
Hohenheim's hand came to his forehead, slouching back in the chair his voice deflated, "Mr. Oberth said the same thing this morning." Having words to say, but suffering from the uncomfortable sensation of not knowing how to compose an explanatory sentence, the man relented to Haushofer's accusations; his hand smoothing over the tied back hair, "It's been hard to keep my concentration today."
A faint smile eased into the Political Professor's expression, "If that's all I can get from you, it'll have to suffice," the man folded his arms firmly across his chest, "I've been chauffer for everyone today since this started, you don't need to walk home. I drove you this morning, I can take you home."
Pushing up from his seat, Hohenheim returned his glasses to his nose and filled the papers into their folders. As he placed them into the desk drawer, Haushofer flicked off the light and spoke up once again.
"The start of a new term is always so hectic, I cannot always keep my mind straight. So before I forget; did you ever find what it was you were looking for?"
Taking his coat from the rack, Hohenheim's gaze grew puzzled, "I went looking for something?"
"After the meeting last week you stayed late with Dietrich, I got the impression you were looking for something? Was I mistaken?"
Hohenheim's movement slowed at the question, pausing while he dressed the overcoat around himself, "I was concerned about construction flaws in the restoration Dietrich had done with the hall last summer. I asked him to walk me through the designs."
Haushofer narrowed his eyes in question, puzzled by the sudden concern, "We went through that last summer and it was fine."
"I wanted to go through it again with him, I was running with a gut feeling," he tightened the jacket belt firmly, "though I was curious to know how he came up with some of the restoration designs and etchings. He's not known as a master of art, just master of words."
Thinking about the engravings within their ancient hall, a side ways grin came across Haushofer's face, "I recall how infuriated he was when you told him that alchemy circle he had etched into the floor was utterly useless. He went to great lengths to find people knowledgeable enough to help him create that. He wanted to impress you the most with it."
"If he wanted to impress me, he should have consulted with me," Hohenheim's un-amused tone gave way to his natural wise aura, "I won't humour the man and tell him he's created a work of art and science when it's simply a flawed inscription."
"What was so wrong with it?"
Hohenheim slid his hands into his pockets as he raised his eyebrows, "Everything." Both men couldn't help but snerk once the words were spoken, "If it were possible for Dietrich to get something like that to work, it would rebound on him because the equation is dangerously incomplete. Why anyone would waste their time trying to develop a wild reaction like that, I have no idea. It may be 'pretty' to look at, but I would never want to be the one who figures out how to use that circle; I place a higher value on my life than that."
Haushofer stood silent in the room, staring with an overwhelmed expression back to Hohenheim, "Going back… you said 'rebound'?"
"The alchemist's body is used to fill in the missing proportions of the alchemical equation. That circle would rip you apart."
"In theory," Haushofer said flatly, narrowing his eyes as though carrying suspicion.
Nodding in agreement, Hohenheim laughed at the look placed upon him, "Yes, in theory. This is why I teach physics and not magic. But if some poor fool gets it to work, don't hesitate to call. You all know where to find me."
Her elbows on the table and feet tucked behind the legs of the chair, Winry stared out into the magnificent shades of pink and purple caused by the last rays of a setting sun. The picturesque scene developing before her eyes did nothing to fill her hallowed feeling.
She glanced over to Elysia, who'd pulled herself up into the adjacent chair.
"You're always sad when you come to visit," Elysia pulled one of her stuffed animals onto the table, "would you like the teddy to make you feel better?"
Lifting her elbows, Winry stretched her shoulders out; giving a sigh as she finished, "Elysia, Aunty Winry's not feeling so good right now. Could we play with the teddies later? It's almost time for you to go to bed anyways."
"I don't want to go to bed," Elysia's face wrinkled as she pouted.
"You should go brush your teeth." Winry dawned a stern look, "Go on."
With a huff, Elysia snatched up her stuffed bear and sulked out of the room. Again Winry's elbows came to rest on the table; her forehead eventually falling into the palms of her hands.
"Are you mad at me?"
She startled with a gasp at Al's voice. Turning around in the chair, Winry looked into Al's somber expression as he approached the table.
"No, I'm not." Winry turned forward again in her seat, her voice poorly holding a pleasant tone.
"You look mad at me," Al slipped into the seat Elysia had vacated within the kitchen. He folded his arms on the table and put his head into them. He looked up at her downtrodden expression, "You always look like that when you say 'I'm not mad' or 'I'm not upset' and someone else tells me later you really are."
Displeased by Al's observation, Winry's arms fell crossed upon the table as Al's were, "I'm not mad. I'm just upset," her displeasure cutting out into the abstract sky beyond the window.
Al sunk into his folded arms, his eyes following the same path out the window. He wondered how to word an apology.
"Huh?" Al's head picked up, eyes wide with surprise; that was supposed to have been his line, "What are you sorry for?"
Putting her chin down into her arms as Al had been doing, Winry looked over to him; her expression tied in knots with concern, "Gracia told me some things… while you were napping."
Sitting straight in his chair suddenly, it was that miserable look she had which could put both Ed and Al on a flustering, nervous edge. Al waved his hands in front of himself in defence, "I was just really tired and not feeling good. I didn't want anyone to feel bad, don't look like that Winry! I'm sorry, it's not that bad."
"No, I'm sorry that it's hard for you to deal with this," her downcast expression tilted over to him, "It's not something you apologize for, Al. I just wish I could do something to make things easier."
Al slumped back in his seat as she'd spoken; finally sighing, he shrugged and dropped his hands onto the edge of the table, "It was easy not to think about a lot of things in Resembool. I didn't have to talk about it with anyone, you all knew before I did what had happened. I didn't meet anyone 'new' beyond Roze. I just had lots of time to think too hard."
"Maybe we should have talked with you more about how you were feeling, rather than just telling you stories about how you once felt."
Patting his light case of bed-hair flat, Al folded his arms across his chest; determined to end this cycle of depressing people, "You know, I liked those stories."
"Al," Winry's voice fell flat as she sat up firmly in the chair, "they made you miserable."
"I was jealous," Al's pouting voice came out defensively, "all those things you know and I don't. And then they all ended up being the same stories after a while."
"Would you like some new stories, Alphonse?" Gracia peeked into her kitchen.
Both Winry and Al looked over their shoulders to Gracia; the wide-eyed open reaction Al displayed to the proposal was an obvious answer.
Gracia clasped her hands with a clap as she moved to her kitchen table, "Very good then. Alphonse, would you first read Elysia her bedtime story. Winry and myself are exempt from this since we've done it many times already."
Winry giggled at Al's 'who, me?' response as he returned to his feet, making his way out of the kitchen.
She watched him as he left; the moment she heard his feet move up the stairs, Winry's arms and head came back down on the table, "I feel terrible, this has just been so hard."
Taking her seat at the head of the table, Gracia gave her mother's accusing gaze to Winry, "Why hasn't anyone been talking to him about this?"
"We did at the very beginning, but it stopped after a while. He didn't want to talk about it," she cowered under the disappointed look in Gracia's eyes, "We'd tell Al about what happened and he would avoid topics that involved how he felt about it. It was easier to not upset him and move on with our lives. Bringing Ed back came out of the blue and was all Al's idea. You could see it coming in retrospect, he started to research alchemy on his own before going to Izumi for help."
Lightening the displeasure she looked upon Winry with, Gracia straightened the napkins at the center of her table, "He's a very sweet boy."
Winry ran her fingernail along the top of the polished table, glancing up at the night overtaking what remained of the colourful evening sky, "Izumi made a good point. Al deals with some situations by not dealing with them; he'll try and distance himself first. He runs away and hides until someone comes to get him or until he can figure himself out enough to deal with things. That's what he used to do years ago when Ed would fight with him."
"He's lost five years of maturity, Winry," Gracia stood up from her seat and moved to one of her cupboards.
"I know," Winry watched with a shameful expression as Gracia took three glasses from her cupboard and began filling drinks for her guests. Turning her head forward again, she burrowed her chin back into her arms, "He avoided me for a while. I was so worried; I didn't know if I'd done something wrong or if he hated me or was scared of me…" she gave her head a light shake to dismiss the memory, "Izumi told me that Al was having problems coming to terms with how much older I was."
Placing a glass of lemonade in front of Winry, Gracia sat back down again, "He seems to be alright with you now."
The corners of her mouth curling up, Winry nodded in agreement, "He got over it. But Izumi warned me that Al was going to behave differently without Ed around. Al fed his strength and confidence off of his brother, just as Ed was kept from flying off the handle by Al's composure. Their personalities complemented each other's weaker aspects."
"I can see that. From what I can remember of the boys, and what I see in Al right now; their personality strengths and natural dispositions are quite different."
Winry propped an elbow up onto the table, resting her chin in that hand as she ran her finger around the edge of her glass, "I think Al benefited more because he was the younger brother, he looked up to Ed and Ed was a natural leader; even if he wasn't always a good one, but then that's where Al came in." She glanced over her shoulder to see if Al was close to resurfacing, "He lost that support and it's been hard for him to cope in Central. He's read a lot to keep his mind occupied. Nothing really happened in Resembool these last few months to help Al deal with a crisis, he gets to find things out the hard way."
"He feels lost and that scares him. But he recognizes that, which is good," Gracia tapped her fingernail on the table; watching Winry knowingly, "it's good he has a big sister to rely on now."
Winry gave a laugh at the remark, "I don't know how to do this job very well, I wanted it really badly and it's been a bit more than I'd expected. I don't know if I'm any good. Just look at what happened today."
Softening her expression, Gracia smiled in thought, "If you weren't doing a good job, then he wouldn't rely on you like he is."
"It doesn't matter anyways, I guess."
The empty voice Winry spoke with struck an uneasy cord within Gracia.
"I'm just the replacement until he gets Ed back."
"… Winry?" Gracia straightened in her seat, suddenly concerned by the statement.
Both turned their attention to the kitchen entrance as Al's feet were finally heard coming down the stairs.
For the length of time he was aware of his father standing silent in the doorway, Edward never realized when the man finally entered the room. Having gotten use to the semi-unwanted feeling of his father's distant gaze watching over him, somewhere between staring at the cracks in the ceiling and the half sleep he'd been drifting into, Ed had faded out long enough for his father to seat himself at the edge of his bed uncontested. The concerned vigil had gone on since the day Hohenheim had found his son in the London hospital. Because of that, Ed's awareness of his father's hand on his forehead had become a familiar sensation; it no longer woke him or startled him. Even though he knew the circumstances behind the man's motivation, Edward would continue to find reasons to object. Having drifted back to a semi-conscious state from the pounding between his temples, Hohenheim was able to feel Ed's facial disapproval and lift his hand before Ed had any chance of swatting it away. Amused that he had gotten away with doing that, a grin and a subtle laugh crossed Hohenheim's face.
"Don't laugh at me," Ed scowled; only his right eye returned to glowering at the ceiling, his left eye now covered in the patch Oberth had dressed him with, "What do you want?"
Hohenheim shook his head; sounding amused in relief of the coherent, yet displeased, voice Edward had, "are you feeling any better?"
"I feel like I got hit with a pipe…"
Hohenheim raised his eyebrows; "You did get hit by a pipe… well, the police baton, which can be likened to a pipe."
"Right…" Ed sank into the bed sheets, somewhat ashamed of the incident he couldn't recall, "go away."
In the quiet, late day, sun lit room, Hohenheim continued to sit silent on the edge of the bed; his mind adrift in the thoughts he'd carried all day long. An uneasy silence between the two began to creep into existence. Upon feeling Edward's eyes cast questionably at him, Hohenheim motioned to the bandaged side of Ed's face, "Hermann stitched it up alright?"
Ed shivered at the thought, spewing out a string of profanities at the experience. He wrinkled his nose and called upon his most displeasing tone, "and the next person to poke me with a needle isn't going to have any fingers left to poke me with again."
"Okay," Hohenheim nodded having heard that sentiment before. A bemused smirk crossed his face while he entertained a thought, "but now you can pass as a pirate."
"Oh for the love of…" Ed rolled over onto his stomach and pulled the quilt over his head, "just don't. Go back to your hole and grade papers, I don't need this from you."
Hohenheim sighed and looked up at the ceiling; his voice sounding tired, "Rudolf has been heckling the station and officers to find out what's been done with your leg."
"Good for him," from beneath the covers, Ed's miserable voice continued to sound out, "Explain to me again why they took it."
Hohenheim rolled his eyes at the thought and simply shook his head at the police's rationale that after they had knocked his son out, they could prevent him from running away by taking his leg, "I have no explanation for that."
"Yeah, you're such a big help. You can get out n-"
"Edward," Hohenheim's voice came out flat, the feign of amusement missing from his tone, "what do you think you're doing?"
Somewhat naive, Ed peeked his head out from the covers, "doing? I'm trying to sleep, I have had a headache all day and you're interrupting me," his eyes narrowed as he voiced his dislike for the man's continued intrusion into his room, "what do you think you're doing? I told you to g-"
"What the hell were you thinking?"
The angered undertone of his father's normally subdued voice was startling, and apparent in his precise enunciation. Slowly turning and sitting up, Ed brushed his blonde hair off his shoulders; unresponsive to his father's question. They sat in the uneasy moment created by the stern words, Hohenheim facing off into a corner of the room as he sat; elbows on knees, chin in hands. Ed leaned away as he turned to sit squarely on the bed.
"What got into your head?"
Frowning at his second accusation, Ed replied, "You're the one who told me to keep on good terms with these people."
"I never told you to get involved," Hohenheim's fierce displeasure in the situation was made painfully clear by his sharp and unchallengeable voice. The voice his father possessed had yet to hit enough wrong cords to draw a response from Edward; though frustration began to show on the younger man's face.
"Why did you go to that?"
"I wasn't given too much of a choice. Haushofer's pupil, Hess – I bumped into him when I was running those errands, he told me to attend," Ed's voice cautious yet firm within the conversation.
"Since when did you abide by a stranger's requests so willingly?"
Annoyed by the questioning of his judgment, Ed's gaze stiffened as he spoke each word carefully, his cocky tone ever-present, "Since I didn't think I'd been given much of a choice in the matter. You should know better than I; he's your associate, after all."
Standing up from the bedside slowly, as if his body ached of age; Hohenheim straightened his shirt and turned the serious and over powering gaze he commanded onto Edward. His voice remained constant and harmonic with the underlay of disapproval, "Don't get involved next time. Decline them; find some way out of it. Just stay away."
Taking a moment to digest and fight off the undesirable intimidation, Ed scowled back at the man, "Since when did you start thinking you can control my life?"
"This discussion is over," Hohenheim's voice cut in, not prepared to argue the issue.
Edward straightened sharply in his spot; jaw tightening and brow knit as he challenged back, "The hell it is, you-"
It was that crushing voice.
That tone which somehow retained the power to silence Edward. A voice saturated with forceful command and a frightening ability to conquer. It wasn't loud or forced, and it never yelled; it simply boomed with authority strong enough to cause cement walls to tremble. He had watched his father draw this tone out occasionally in London, with a slightly greater frequency in Munich, and despised it with a passion when it was turned upon him. Yet, Edward would say nothing. The man would get his way, and no one had enough strength to challenge him; the unquestionable firm expression and devastating look of his eyes made efforts futile. It was a persona that made Ed jealous in retrospect of any given situation; he wished to master a prowess like that.
An eventual sigh was released into the ensuing silence as Hohenheim's laid-back demeanour returned at the fall of his shoulders, "I just ask… that you don't get involved with them again. It's a simple request."
Edward did not reply to yet another of his father's statements; by this time, an answer was no longer required.
"Do you want dinner?" the tired voice Hohenheim had taken home with him from the university returned to his voice.
Still somewhat locked in the submissive state his father had ground him into, the shrug of Ed's shoulders was half-hearted and his voice flat, "Sure."
"I'll bring it up to you," Hohenheim slid his hands into his trousers' pockets, "try and get some more sleep when you're done, the headache will go away faster."
"Let's see, after that…" Gracia tapped her chin, "Maes had arranged for your boys' escort and body guard to be Lt. Colonel Armstrong, back when he was still a Major."
Winry's chin rested in her folded arms upon the table, "So that's where he came from."
"He arranged for all your escorts, including Lt. Ross and Sgt. Broche," Gracia nodded, trying to recall the memories, "after Maes had been out East for a while, he came home and you boys followed not long afterwards. I know you spent some time in the fall with Sheska, as she re-wrote some books you needed to look through. You spent a lot of time over the winter in the library, Ms. Ross was constantly on Maes' case about that too, she was petrified Scar was going to show up."
"Did he?" Al continued to sit at the table in similar fashion to Winry, head in his arms as he eagerly listened to her fill in a void for him.
Gracia nodded slowly, "Maes got called out one night on an emergency. Turns out you boys got yourselves in a situation and the Fuhrer commanded the troops entering the compound to get you out. Both you and Ed were hurt in that."
"I think Ed called me right after, because his AutoMail stopped working," Winry added quietly, trying to keep her aura of innocence in the whole situation.
"Oh yes, that's why you boys couldn't attend Elysia's birthday party. You were in the hospital," Gracia stirred the spoon in her teacup, "but Winry came, and I sent her back with a cake for you two, since it was Ed's birthday too."
Al turned his head in his arms, "I thought I couldn't eat?"
Winry laughed nervously, "Ed ate most of it, the pig. Mrs. Hughes gave me the recipe and I made it for you on your last birthday, remember? So you did get to eat it, just a bit later, slightly different…" her voice trailed off, deciding that it be best to ask Gracia to make a cake for him instead.
Gracia giggled at Winry's attempt; lacing her fingers, she returned to the thoughts, "Once you were doing better, right around the end of winter and the beginning of spring, you three were off to… Dublith I believe it was," she looked to Winry who nodded to confirm the story, "We saw you off at the station, and that was the last time I'd seen either of you."
Al crossed his eyes as he tried to place everything into a time frame, "How long ago was that?"
"A little over a year, it was just before Maes passed away," Gracia nodded as she sorted out the events around that part of her life.
Winry and Al exchanged an uncomfortable look once they realized what had been brought up. Bouncing up in her seat, Winry piped up, "Can we go back to the story about Ed's birthday party Al was asking about earlier, when he first came to Central and Elysia was born? In his 'lookit me! I'm so cool, I'm a State Alchemist!' letter Ed briefly mentioned what happened."
Al's eyes glanced out the kitchen and down the hall; he shut the noises in the room out of his mind for a moment, trying to spot the suit jacket hanging up on the coat rack before Mrs. Hughes' voice interrupted.
"Oh goodness," entertained by the memory, Gracia laughed, "those two came over with little Nina. Edward was all out of sorts having people fuss over him like that; I think he wanted to crawl away when we sung him Happy Birthday. But he loved the food. I have no idea how that tiny boy stored everything he ate."
"Mrs. Hughes," Al interrupted her, "that little girl in the photo, her name was Nina?"
Winry's expression fell sideways in confusion, "What photo?"
"Mrs. Hughes gave me a photo from Ed's birthday party when I was here last. It had everyone in it." Getting up from his chair at the table, Al slipped out of the kitchen and made his way down the hall. He'd transferred the picture into the suit jacket he was wearing at the funeral, hoping that he would have been able to stop off at Mrs. Hughes', also concerned that someone might find it in his other coat. Taking the envelope from the inside pocket, Al held it in his hands for a moment; turning it over a few times as he thought over his questions, before moving back into the kitchen. Returning to the chair, he remained distracted in thought.
Lifting up from her seat at the table, Winry leaned across, "Can I see it?"
"Sure," Al lay the envelope flat on the table's polished surface slid it across to her.
Catching an unsettling feeling from young Al, Gracia's eyes grew concerned over seriousness of his expression, "Alphonse, is something wrong?"
He was silent a moment as Winry flipped the envelope open and pulled out the picture.
Winry burst into giggles upon seeing the picture, "Aww… it's so nostalgic to see everyone like that. Ed looks so young! Al you're just monstrously huge compared to everyone else…" her eyes glanced up to Al, entertained by the photograph. The mood was instantly displaced; Winry found herself caught off guard by stern grey eyes Al watched her with.
"…What?" her voice came out slowly.
"Look at the photo again."
Leaning back in her chair, Winry ran her eyes over the photo again, "What am I looking for?"
Al didn't answer; he just watched her eyes and waited for a reaction. The moment her eyes stopped drifting around the image, he knew she'd seen it.
Winry's posture began to fall apart as her eyes grew wide in confusion. Slowly sitting forward, her hand coming to her mouth as she tried to wrap her mind around what she saw, "how long ago was this?" her voice came out sharp and quick; and though she was aware of the answer, she still wanted someone's confirmation.
"Just over five years," an abnormally serious tone echoed in Al's voice.
Winry sat the photo down on the table, her fingernail pointing to the little girl sitting adjacent to Ed, "Nina… you said?"
Al turned his attention to Mrs. Hughes, "Nina right?"
Gracia nodded, uncertain as to where the conversation was going.
"Well…" Winry sat back, her eyes trained on the photo, "how old is she there? She looks four or five."
"Four, Nina's fifth birthday was coming up in the summer. She asked if I could make the cake for her party too," Gracia said quietly as she recalled the memory.
"So if this picture was taken in January, and it's the summer now, she'd have to be about 10 today," Al's gaze crossed back to Winry.
Leaning over the photo once again, Winry's eyes dug into it, "Mr. Mitchell's daughter is seven going on eight… she certainly doesn't look old enough to be ten."
"But look at it Winry," Al insisted, sitting higher in his seat.
Concentrating on the image, her hand came over her mouth again; elbows resting on the table, "I know. I can see it… that's just… not adding up."
Gracia glanced between the two, uncomfortable with the uneasy aura they were giving off, "What are you two going on about?"
Al pointed to the photograph, "The little girl the Mitchell family adopted in the last week looks just like that little girl in the photo."
Pausing a moment to examine the correlation the two had made, Gracia suddenly shook her head, realizing the piece of information they missed, "No no you two, you're mistaken," she waved her hand to ease the situation, her voice somewhat withdrawn by the recollection, "Nina died a couple months after this was taken."
"What!" Al's full attention shot to Gracia who seemed taken aback by the sudden response. Catching her discomfort, Al withdrew his aggressive posture and returned to staring at the photograph before them, "Your other photos from the party, they have Nina in them too don't they?"
"Yes," Gracia stood up, she did no need to wait for Al to request it, "let me get them."
Both sets of remaining eyes trained diligently on the photo as Gracia stepped out of the room. Within her fingernails, Winry picked up the photo again, "Maybe it's a coincidence…?"
"Winry you know what she looks like. That picture is clear, you can't mistake it," Al's voice insisted desperately.
"I know…" she put the photo back down on the table, at the mid point between herself and Al. Her startled expression staring back into the seriousness of Al's eyes, "But Mrs. Hughes said she died."
His frown deepening, Al challenged her statements, "Then she either didn't really die, or someone brought her back."
"Al, don't go there. There was only one stone and you used it," Winry snapped sharply, not liking where he was taking this.
"My brother didn't use it! Everyone said so," Al swept his hand across the table, picking the photo up by the boarder, "There was only one Nina, but now we've seen another. I've looked at Mrs. Hughes' other photos, I know who I saw. You're going to see it too in a second."
Winry sat back, silent in her chair, suddenly anxious, nervous, and quite frightened to see the impending photo album.
"There's someone out there responsible for this. Maybe this person has done something similar to what my brother did with me. If they found another method and brought her back without the stone, then maybe they can tell me something to help get him back."
To Be Continued...
Al is someone everyone should be allowed to hug. And Gracia is everyone's mom – she's so good at it.
I'm going to run with the assumption that Wrath spilled no information what so every during the time Winry equipped him.
Speaking of Winry: Bad little Nina-girl, planting the seed of doubt in Winry's mind that she's a substitute. The one thing I noticed about Winry in the series was that she oozed confidence when it came to mechanics or anything technical, but she was quick to doubt or tear up when it came to personal issues with Ed and Al.
I want Hohenheim to have a powerful dimension to him. Something that scares everyone but he doesn't use or abuse because he values his compassionate side. The refined dimension that allowed him to survive, and want to have survived, for 500 or so years (which involves a killer instinct, or he would not still be around). The fact he made it clear he'll allow himself to die off this time does not indicate (in my mind) that he's given up – but simply that he's realized his time has come. He is 'The Wise' (and he's trapped on the other side of the gate, whoops). Ed is smart enough to have figured out that his dad, if he wants to be, is a very intimidating man. I'd go so far as to say that by this point Ed is able to respect that about him; God forbid Ed ever admit to this.
Chapter 59 Feedback
Queen of Vegetasei – (RE: Ch 58) LOL aw XD I'm glad you care, that makes me happy. I'm glad you're enjoying how things are going :) . Everything (both London and Munich) are to be gloomy and miserable, somewhat reflecting how Ed is down there. As for the Homunculus movie, I believe the info I found said that only a 'partial' existing copy remains. Gonna have to go to Germany to see it tho, lol. And Ed... I love Ed, I love writing Ed too. He (and all the miserable things that happen to him) makes me happy.
meijiOrO – The story's not done with Hitler yet, what fun would that be if I let the scariest part of German history fade away?
SxStrngSamurai13 – I wasn't going to put a half hearted effort into my story; not to say that other fic writers do, I'm just saying that it was either going to be an all out effort or none at all.
Kajeth – Aw I'm sorry there's not more (just yet) but if it makes you feel any better, I currently have chapter outlines all the way up to Ch 63.
Merf – I know what's been done with Izumi!
FolkenStratigos - I was aware of Hohenheim's origins, though I don't think I'm going to get into that very much.