This fic was written especially for my friend Squeak for her birthday. You said there weren't enough Al fics in the world, Squeak, so I thought I'd add one more! Happy birthday!
The Human and the Mouse
By: Koorino Megumi
Takes place in the years between Ed's start as a State Alchemist and the events in the city of Lior. No spoilers.
They really hadn't meant to get separated. Not that they ever meant to be apart, of course. The rare times a brother could be found without the other, it was always because of some unexpected circumstances. It usually wasn't voluntary, either, but this time, when they had come to the town of Nazarin to see about the newest lead for the Philosopher's Stone and the men there had insisted and insisted that they would speak to the Full Metal Alchemist and the Full Metal Alchemist only, Al had finally decided that it would be easier to just go along with it for this once. That and he was afraid Ed's temper was going to hit a critical level if they made one more comment about how no one else--especially not a guy who wouldn't even show his face--could be trusted, and Al definitely didn't want his brother to lose this lead completely on his account.
So then Al had needed to do some insisting of his own, assuring Ed that he couldn't be gone long and that Al would spend the time finding a room for them for the night. He was almost thankful when the people who had invited Ed--the owners of the town's mine--didn't pipe up and offer him lodging, although that was just one more indication of how rude they were.
After some protesting, and with a sigh and a frown, Ed finally conceded, apparently realizing even through his anger what Al was trying to do.
"I'll see you tonight, Niisan," Al stated, waving and turning away.
"Al!" Ed called after him, and the suit of armor turned back, lifting his hands in surprise to catch the purse that Ed had tossed at him. "Get us a good room, all right? I'm still sore from the train."
"Mm." Al nodded and headed off, faintly hearing Ed make some offhand comment about money that was designed to ensure their new source of information would tell him everything they knew.
And so Al clanked his way into town, looking around for the sign of an inn. The whole area looked rather upscale, especially as far as frontier towns went. He frowned thoughtfully. It seemed that these people had some commodity in their mine to make them rich, but whether or not it was related to the Philosopher's Stone was still suspect.
Walking down the street, though, Al began to feel rather uncomfortable. It was a bustling town, full of stores and well-dressed people. The streets were oddly crowded, especially considering the small population of the town itself, and while the people seemed to be generally self-absorbed and unconcerned with the actions of those around them, a lot were also giving looks directly at Al--looks of the weary, skeptical kind.
Feeling suddenly self-conscious, Al wished--and not for the first time--that he were closer in size to his brother. As much as Ed hated any references to his height, Al knew that it sometimes came in handy. At times his own big body did as well, of course, but sometimes it just seemed like more trouble than it was worth.
Trying to scrunch down as much as a hulking suit of armor can without bending forward, Al continued his scan for an inn, walking a bit more briskly now. Finally he spotted the sign and, sighing in relief, made his way hurriedly across the crowded street and over to the building, still being careful not to ram into any of the people in his path.
A bell jingled as he entered the inn, and most of the people in the common room looked up, throwing a lazy glance in his direction that, at the sight of him, quickly changed to a look of rather hostile surprise. For a moment, Al debated whether or not to mumble out a greeting to these people--the room had gone rather quiet, after all--to show that he meant no harm. Before he could decide if that might make things worse instead, though, a chipper voice piped up from behind the counter, "Hello, Sir! Welcome to the Mousey Hole Inn."
Al hurried over to the counter at that first kind voice he'd heard in this place, trying to ignore all the watching eyes. "Hi," he replied timidly. Then he blinked. "Mousey Hole?"
The girl laughed lightly, and the sound reminded him of little bells. She herself was petite and rather mousey with an adorable button nose, full brown hair hanging down her back, and clear blue eyes. "Because it's cozy like a mouse's home," she replied, and Al could have sworn that she was blushing faintly.
"Oh. Then that's a very nice name," he commented, trying to make the smile he would have given audible in his voice.
"You think so?" she asked. Then she smiled widely. "That's why you're going to spend the night here, right?" She gazed at him with wide eyes pleadingly.
Al looked down, an invisible blush in his cheeks. "I was looking for a room for two," he stated. Then his eyes widened. "I-I mean for my brother and I. Not for... Just for me and my brother."
The girl giggled. "I have a perfect room for you and your brother," she declared, "Want me to show it to you first, or have you already decided to stay here?"
Al thought of Ed's order to get a good room, but then he glanced at the common room and the looks the people were giving him and decided that he most definitely didn't want to wander around among people like this and try to find another inn. "No, I'm sure the room is great," he replied, "How much?"
The girl positively beamed at him, giving a very fair price, as far as inns went. When Al pulled out Ed's purse to pay, her eyes grew as wide as saucers. "Wow, you and your brother sure are rich!"
Another invisible blush. "Well, my brother is a State Alche..." He trailed off at the look on the girl's face. "What is it?"
She worked her mouth a bit, seemingly unsure how to respond. Then, rather nervously and a bit stiffly, she instructed, "Please come with me, Sir, and I'll show you your room."
Al blinked in confusion at her change in demeanor, but he nodded and waited for her to come out from behind the counter, following her toward a small stairway in the back.
They were halfway up the stairs when the girl stopped, leaning in close to Al and causing him to stiffen. He could feel her breath against his ear as she whispered, "You don't want to tell the people here you're with the military. They'll let you be here if you aren't doing anything to bother them, but if they hear that, they'll want you out."
"O-Oh," Al replied, trying to banish his embarrassment at her being so close. For once he was grateful that he couldn't blush. "Thanks," he added, wishing his mind would work to let him say something more inspiring.
The girl stepped back then and smiled. "But don't worry about me," she assured him, "I don't mind nice people, even the ones what do work for the military." She made to continue on toward the room, but then she stopped, turning back to him. "Oh! And my name is Lindsey," she introduced, "My father owns this inn."
Al again used his voice to smile, replying, "Nice to meet you, Lindsey. My name is Al. Alphonse Elric."
Lindsey's eyes widened at the introduction. "So you're-! And your brother-!" And then she burst into giddy giggles, and Al just looked at her, confused.
"What is it? You've...heard of us?" he asked, feeling a little disgruntled about her laughter but thinking it would be impolite to say so. That was more his brother's department, after all.
"Of course! Your brother is famous! A dog of the military who sides with the people, right?"
Al put a hand behind his head sheepishly at the comment, smiling inwardly. "Yeah, that's Niisan."
"Ooooh, I have such famous guests!" Lindsey gushed, "I really do have a good room for you, Al! Erm...Mr. Elric. Um...let me show you!" She had started twisting a piece of hair around her finger as she spoke, blushing, but now she turned and headed on down the hall in a rush, motioning for Al to follow.
Al did so, grinning inwardly at this girl and her actions. Mr. Elric? There was a name he was never called. It had been funny for her to say it, but he decided that the minute they were in the room, he was going to tell her to call him Al. After all, he couldn't be any older than she was, and...well, he didn't want her to call him something that formal...
"Your room's right here!" Lindsey called, motioning to him from the doorway of a room at the end of the hall, "Come see!"
"Coming." Al hurried over to her, clanking and feeling oddly embarrassed about the noise. But he stepped into the doorway and broke out in a grin. Not at all the modest hotel room he'd been expecting, this one had two soft beds, loaded with blankets, and a window looking out at the town. The floor was wood, but there was a small rug next to each bed. Perfect. It's not too fancy, but it's really comfortable. Niisan will be happy. "This is really nice, Lindsey."
She frowned and bit her lip. "Is it really? You and your brother are important guests, so I wanted to make sure..." Then she paused, glancing at Al a bit nervously. "Umm...why are you here, anyway? I mean...sorry, that was rude, but...we don't see the military much." She blushed.
"No, it's okay," Al replied, waving a hand reassuringly, "My brother...well, we're looking for the Philosopher's Stone. And we heard a rumor that some people here knew something about it. So we came to see if it was true." At the look on her face, Al narrowed his eyes. "What is it?" he asked, almost timidly, "Do you know about it?"
Lindsey nodded, rather numbly, he thought.
"So...the rumor is true?" Al persisted when she didn't offer any more information than that.
"Yes..." she replied quietly, not looking at him, "Lots of people come for it..."
Al blinked. "Lots of people?"
"Mm-hm. They come and visit the mine, and then they leave. They...always have the Philosopher's Stone with them."
"But...how is that possible?" Al burst out.
These people can't really have an easy method to create the Philosopher's Stone, can they? We would have heard something if they were being mass-produced! There would be a lot of people out in the world using them...
Lindsey shrugged rather noncommittally. Then she bit her lip, appearing to be fighting with indecision. "Al...ah...Mr. Elric..."
"You can call me Al," Al broke in kindly, somehow forgetting for a second that they were in the middle of a serious discussion, "If it's okay to call you Lindsey?" I don't know her last name anyway... But it would be rude not to check.
"Of course!" Lindsey declared, some of her cheerfulness apparently restored by the shift in topic. Then she bit her lip again, eyeing him nervously. "So...um...Al..." she started.
"Yes?" Al asked, hoping to encourage her to continue.
"Well, why..." She frowned, chewing on her lip.
"What is it?"
"Nothing..." The girl grabbed a strand of hair and began twirling it between her fingers, looking down.
I wish she weren't so nervous... Is she scared of me because of the armor? How do I make her feel better?
"You know, Lindsey..." Al started, fidgeting slightly and cringing as the armor clanked at the movement, "My brother and I have been a lot of places, and...well, we know powerful people can be corrupt sometimes. But that doesn't mean that we get mad at everyone else! Especially since sometimes the people can't do anything to stop what's happening on their own."
"It's how they keep the town running!" Lindsey burst out, "No one knows how to work honestly anymore..." Then she gasped, her eyes going wide, and dropped her strand of hair as she put her hands to her mouth. "I'm sorry, Al! I shouldn't have said anything... Sorry..." And suddenly she was turning around to head out of the room.
Al reacted, and he put a hand on her shoulder just as she turned back around, which caused the step forward that he was taking to chase after her to bring him right up against her.
For a second, Al almost could have sworn he felt heat in his cheeks.
The boy took a hasty step back, throwing his hands up in front of him, mortified. "S-sorry!" he cried, "I didn't mean to..."
Lindsey just gazed at him, open-mouthed and...blushing?
They both stared at each other for a moment. Then Lindsey looked down shyly, breaking the silence with, "It's okay. I...shouldn't have tried to run away."
Al wasn't sure how to reply. He worked his mouth a few times before, finally, he asked, "What's wrong, Lindsey?" And for a second he actually wished that he could stop blushing before he remembered that he physically wasn't anyway.
Lindsey started chewing on her lip again. "Al..." she started, and he didn't interrupt this time, hoping that maybe she would say more if he didn't interfere. "Why do you and your brother want the Philosopher's Stone?" she asked, her expression pained, clearly uncomfortable with asking the question.
Al blinked. He hadn't been expecting that. Is she trying to decide if she can trust me? But I can't answer without telling her that I'm not just in a suit of armor...
"My brother lost an arm and a leg in...an accident with alchemy. I want to help him get them back," Al replied, conviction seeping into his voice and masking anything that might belie that he was only telling half the story.
Lindsey's eyes widened. "I never heard about that!" she declared, but her expression didn't indicate any mistrust. She frowned thoughtfully. "So that's why your brother's a State Alchemist?" she asked, "To get back his arm and leg?"
Al shifted uncomfortably, cringing as he clanked yet again. He dimly wondered why that was bothering him so much today. After all, he always clanked.
I can't let her believe Niisan's being selfish like that. Especially since he's not thinking of himself at all...
Al shook his head, taking a deep breath and steeling himself to force the words out. "No, Lindsey. He did it to get back what I lost."
Al was silent for a moment after that, blinking in surprise out how easy sharing had turned out to be. Normally he was terrified of the possibility of people knowing--after all, who knew who might share the secret with others and land him in a lab somewhere?--but for some reason he wasn't at all worried about telling her. Well, it wasn't that he "wasn't worried." He was indeed worried--about what she might think of him now, even though all he'd admitted was that he wasn't whole--but he wasn't worried about her sharing his secret or causing any trouble for him because of it. In fact, something about sharing with her had felt good in a way. He wanted to be honest with her.
"Al..." Lindsey started softly, her expression full of concern. She stepped up to him, putting a hand on his metal arm, but she made no move to remove the helmet and look within the empty suit of armor to see what he meant. "I was wrong," she continued, looking down, "I knew right away you weren't like all the others, but I still doubted if...if you had good reasons. But I was wrong."
Al wasn't quite sure how to react. She seemed really remorseful for doubting him, although when she had doubted him and about what, he had no idea. So he reached out and patted her clumsily with his other metal arm, hoping that would offer some degree of comfort.
Lindsey smiled at his touch, although her expression was pained. "I decided not to tell you before, but...now I don't want you and your brother to get robbed," she stated.
Al stopped patting, looking at her in confusion. "Robbed?" he repeated, "But Lindsey...the room is very nice, especially for the price. Is there something wrong with it?"
Lindsey's eyes widened at the comment, and she giggled. Al was glad to hear that sound, as serious as she was acting. The girl shook her head, smiling softly. "No, that's not it. But the Philosopher's Stones they're selling...they're just a fancy way of robbing people."
Al blinked. "They're...what?"
Lindsey bit her lip. "They use the fakes to rob people. And they never let any buyers come back to complain. That's why outsiders aren't welcome. They..." she stopped, "I'm not making any sense, am I?" she asked sheepishly, "Let me explain. Maybe you can stop your brother before he gets rob-"
She was cut off quite abruptly then, however, by the sound of an enormous explosion. Al and Lindsey both ran to the window, the suit of armor peering over the girl's shoulder at the mountain and the mines where his brother had gone.
The mountain was collapsing. Literally collapsing. Lindsey gasped, her hands flying to her mouth. Al just stared, wide-eyed in his own unadjustable-eye-socket way. But he had a feeling he knew why this was happening. "I think..." he started, knowing his mouth would be dry if he had one of the regular kind and glad that he didn't have to deal with it, "I think Niisan figured out what they were up to."
Lindsey just turned to him, wide-eyed now as well. "You think your brother did that?" she cried.
Al nodded. "Yeah, that...looks like Niisan's work." He put a hand behind his head sheepishly. "He gets a little carried away sometimes."
Lindsey looked like she was about to cry, and Al lowered his arm immediately. "Lindsey? What's wrong?"
"Without their money, this town is going to fall apart..." the girl wailed, her voice choked. She looked out the window again, horror on her face at the sight.
Al stood for a moment, watching her, his mind racing. Obviously Ed had just taken care of whatever fraud was going on in this town, but what was he doing to help the citizens?
He must have thought of something, right? He wouldn't be so rash that he'd just blow it all up when he discovered it...would he?
But Al's hopes were short-lived because, as soon as the thought crossed his mind, he realized that it was exactly the rash sort of thing Ed would do.
But a town shouldn't be run off of stealing anyway. Lindsey knows that. That's why she was so uncomfortable about it! So why is she upset? Doesn't this mean that things will change?
"Lindsey...you don't want this town to be run with the money from robberies, do you?" Al asked, watching her nervously.
The girl turned back to him in surprise. "No! Of course not!" she declared
"Then...isn't this a good thing?"
Lindsey blinked, then chewed her lip. "But the people don't know any other way to live..."
"But they'll learn one if they need to," Al insisted.
"Al..." The girl just stared for a moment, then she suddenly rushed forward and threw her arms around him. "Thank you!" she cried, "You're right! You and your brother have saved us!"
Al couldn't seem to respond to that. All he could do was stiffen in shock and stare at the girl who was clinging so tightly to him. She looked up at him in response to his reaction--or lack thereof--and a bit of a grin touched her lips. Suddenly she was up on her tiptoes, and Al was leaning down, thinking for some inexplicable reason that she was about to whisper something into his ear, when instead she went straight for his face, and Al, even though he couldn't sense the warmth, felt lips touch right where his own mouth was.
Lindsey got down from her tiptoes and took a step back, smiling shyly for a moment, but then her eyes widened. "I bet they're pretty mad at your brother right now..." she commented almost absently, looking out the window again, "Al, you'd...better leave right away."
"Leave?" Al repeated numbly, still frozen in place by the shock of what the girl had done.
Lindsey nodded, and Al thought he saw tears in her eyes. "We'll find a new way to live, but...that's going to take some time. They might try to hurt you, Al! You need to leave now!"
"But..." Al started to protest when he was interrupted by yelling from down below.
"AL! WE'RE GOING!"
Al would have frowned if he could have, he was so torn. But he knew that he only had one option. "You're right...I have to go."
Lindsey nodded, chewing her lip and playing with a strand of hair. "Al...thank you," she stated softly.
Al tried to make a smile audible in his voice. "Thank you, Lindsey."
She looked at him questioningly for a moment, but he just made a sheepish noise, and she giggled. "Good-bye, Al," she said, reaching out and putting a hand on his arm.
Al tried not to let the touch freeze him again, and he reached out and put his other hand on her shoulder in response. "Good-bye, Lindsey."
"COMING, NIISAN!" And after one more glance, Al was headed out of the room, and this time, he didn't even notice his clanking.
Good-bye, Lindsey. Sorry I didn't get to stay the night after you gave us such a nice room...
But there was no chance to say any more to the girl as Ed and Al already had to evade a mob to escape. It was painfully obvious just how welcome they would be if they ever tried to return.
But as they ran from the inn, Al glanced back up at it, and from a window upstairs, he could have sworn he saw a figure waving. His heart leapt into his throat, and he hesitated, giving a quick wave back.
Then Ed had grabbed his arm and was pulling him away, and suddenly the Mousey Hole Inn was gone and the town was gone and they were on a train headed back to East City to report to the Colonel.
They had been sitting in silence for a while, Al lost in his own thoughts, when Ed finally broke it. "Al?" he asked, "Did something happen in that inn?"
"Hm?" Al said, distracted. But his invisible eyes widened as the question finally registered. "N-nothing!" he cried, his hands now in front of him defensively.
Ed raised an eyebrow. "Nothing, huh?"
Al sighed, his shoulders slumping. "Well...not much."
"Come on, Al!" Ed pressed, grinning at his brother, "What was it?"
Al was quiet for a moment, turning to look out the window at the passing countryside as the events of the evening replayed in his mind. "I met a mouse," he replied finally.
"Mm. A mouse who lived in a cozy hole, and even though it was a small mouse and some of the other mice weren't the best, she was living the right way all on her own..."
Ed was silent for a moment, and Al didn't turn to look a his expression. But finally, his brother remarked, "You sound like maybe you can't live without sleep after all, Al."
Al turned back to his brother irritably. "Niisan!" he cried, "I mean it!"
Ed laughed, obviously still not understanding his younger brother's meaning. "Sure, Al, sure. I'm tired anyway. Wake me up when we get to the station, okay?"
"Mm," Al agreed, turning to look back out the window. Soon he could hear his brother snoring across from him, and he smiled inwardly as he watched the countryside go by, now free to lose himself in his own thoughts.
It's true what I told Niisan. Lindsey will definitely be okay on her own. She already knows how people should live, and she knows how to find people she can trust.
People she can trust...like she found me. She treated me like a human... And isn't what she was doing what I need to do, too? I should hold onto the people I can trust and let them help me. And I need to find my own way--the right one, even if people around me want to follow the wrong one. Because if I keep walking the right path, the wrong one will close up, and those people will have to follow the right one, too.
Thanks, Lindsey... I felt things today that I didn't think I could--things that humans feel. And you showed me how a human should live, even when things happen that make them afraid. Maybe I can't go back to see you anymore, but...I'm glad I saw you that once.
"Aaal, don't we have any other Philosopher's Stone leads?" Ed cried suddenly, jerking Al from his thoughts. The boy found his brother peering into a book and looking sour.
"No, Niisan," Al replied, "That was the only one we had left. But you haven't read that other book..."
Ed scowled. "I can't believe it was just another waste of time..." he muttered.
Ed raised an eyebrow at Al's outburst. "We didn't find a thing."
"But we helped those people, Niisan."
Ed sighed. "Yeah, I guess we did." He smiled slightly. "And you met your mouse," he commented.
Al looked down at his lap, feeling for all the world like he was blushing. "Yeah. I met my mouse..."
The train continued on toward East City, and Al helped his brother search through a book for a new Philosopher's Stone lead. Somehow he felt like he had a new goal now. Certainly he still had the goals that he had told Lindsey about, but there was something else he wanted, too...
I want to be human again. So maybe next time I see you...I can really blush. And I'll feel your arms and feel a kiss. Maybe someday, once we've both worked hard enough to make our own paths, they can cross again. And I'll show you that you were right to treat me like a human...
Al smiled to himself, reading with renewed vigor. This excursion hadn't been a waste at all. Because he had met his mouse...