Disclaimer: I do not own Full Metal Alchemist and am only a fan inspired by the story to the point that writing this story was only a matter of time. I only own the original characters and hope that those reading the story will enjoy what I have written. Thank you for reading and I look forward to your thoughts about the story. Keep in mind that I don't have anyone beta reading these chapters for me so there may be slight typos, I really try hard to catch them all.
Empathy Chapter Fifteen: Time To Say Goodbye
Al and Ed were going to take a train to Central and Ann had said she and Winry ought to take them into town. The young men had not slept well, neither wanting to leave, but the time had come to say goodbye, at least for now. They took their suitcases and loaded the wagon, then it was just needing Ann, her crutches, Ed and Al. With a promise to write they left Pinako standing there with Den, watching Winry and Ed on the top of the wagon, while Ann and Al were waving from inside. They waved until the house faded from view and then they were silent.
It was so hard, no one knew what to say and for the longest time none of them spoke, the horses made the only noise besides the noises of the wagon itself. Ann moved to sit on Al's lap and just sat there in his arms, enjoying being close to him. She knew that they would be coming back alone and the days and weeks ahead were not going to be easy, but she would help Winry just as Winry would help her get through it. Al stroked her brunette hair and gently rubbed her back while they bounced along in the seat.
Above on top Winry was smiling at Ed and they were just staring at each other. Winry had decided to drive so when Ed put his hand on her leg she shivered not expecting him to do something like that. Then he moved it from her leg to her shoulders, getting close to her so that when she turned she was inches from his face, feeling his warm breath on her cheek. She sighed and he leaned in to kiss her. They were going over a long straight road so there wasn't a worry that the wagon would veer off the road, also the two horses, Lady and Boots were both skilled leads.
When Ed pulled his face back and reached up to her cheek, "I love you Winry. I don't want to leave you but I have to. You do understand don't you? Truthfully, do you?" he whispered.
She nodded, "Of course I understand Edward. Don't worry about it. I'm not going anywhere and if you need me you know how to get in touch."
He pulled her close and smiled, "Yes I do," then he pulled her into another kiss.
From below Ann and Al didn't hear them above, so they were alone in their own little world. Al hoped things would be ok, he worried that Ann might end up alone because they'd fail. He was trying to think of what to say that could still let her hold onto hope for the moment yet free her should the time come where Al's soul was obviously lost to this world. But nothing came to him. She ended up speaking first, whispering as if afraid they'd hear her above the wooden roof seat.
"Al? Can you tell me something?"
He moved to nod and she looked right into his eyes, "Of course Ann. What?"
"Tell me that you are coming back and that you will still love me."
"Oh Ann, of course I'll be coming back and nothing can change the way I feel about you. I promise."
"What if I can't use this leg the way you think I should be able to when you get back? What if I need a cane still?"
Al chuckled, "Oh Ann listen to yourself, it should be about whether or not you think you're using it well enough, you should know that only what you think when it comes to the automail is what you have to go by. I think that you've done great to come this far. It isn't an easy thing to get this far to where you can walk with crutches. Be proud of yourself."
Ann giggled softly and snuggled up to Al's shoulder, "You're right, how did you get to be so smart?"
Al shrugged, "I'm not that smart. I'm just proud of you and think you should be too Ann. You know while I'm gone I know you'll work hard, but don't hurt yourself. Please take care and take your time to get accustomed to using the leg. It comes in time."
She shifted on his lap and the wagon bounced, knocking Al off balance long enough that he fell over onto the seat with Ann under him. He moved to sit up terrified he'd hurt her, even though she was laughing.
"Oh my god are you ok Ann?"
She slipped her legs from his lap to the seat and Ed's face appeared from the window, he laughed, "What is going on down here? You know you shouldn't be moving around like that, you're going to knock the horses off balance."
Ed winked and upon seeing Ann's blush he sat back up. Winry giggled and asked what he'd seen.
"Were they ok?"
He nodded, "Yeah, but something happened. If I had to guess from the way that felt from here I'd say he fell over on top of her. The fact she was red as an apple make me think that was the case."
"Oh I seem I bet it will be an interesting ride home." Winry chuckled and winked.
Edward smiled at looked out at the sky, "I will try to write Winry, and I do hope you come out to meet us somewhere sometime."
She blushed and looked away, for a moment he was afraid she was going to beam him with a wrench yanked from some hiding spot, but instead he just watched her thinking about it.They were going along a pretty deserted stretch of road and had plenty of time to talk now before they reached the train station.
"I'm tired Al. I'm sorry I don't have more to say."
Al nodded, "It's fine Ann, go to sleep. Rest in my arms, I'll hold you and protect you."
Ann moved to do just that, holding his right arm between hers, resting her head on his arm, she shifted slightly and then relaxed, her back to him as she was somewhat on her side. He sighed, thinking about how embarrassing it had been falling on top of her. He decided that he would let her sleep for as long as she could. She'd always commented on how good she slept in his arms and he had to admit the thought of not being there when she slept anymore was sad.
It was like losing his best friend, only not, it was deeper somehow and he imagined it would hurt much more once they were finally apart. They'd talked about Winry coming to travel with them at some point and it was pretty much a given that Ann would stay home to take care of things. Pinako was fine on her own, but in a serious situation until she'd mastered her automail, Ann was better off at home. It was a long ride there, they had hours to go and he was used to being left to his own thoughts for long periods of time.
It offered him a chance to admire Ann without her feeling uncomfortable under such scrutiny. He looked down to her hands, entwined with his arm still, dainty little things yet they were strong. Her muscular arms were unlike the proportions of the rest of her. From being in a chair so long she'd gotten herself in good shape. He hoped she would be strong emotionally, she'd surely shown him that she was strong enough to speak up if something was wrong. Winry would be there for her but still he knew she would be joining up with them at some point.
It hit home again how to see her again it was on his shoulders. His and Edward's to get their bodies back to normal. Once that happened he'd be right back here with her. Ed called out just then, saying they were about two hours away now and Ann woke up moaning, this made Ed poke his head down to see what was going on. Al laughed and Ann yawned. Ed rolled his eyes and stuck his tongue out at Al before going back above to sit upright.
Al noticed his brother didn't have his red coat on and when Ann sat up he leaned over and stuck his head out. He saw Winry was kissing him so he immediately went back inside feeling rather surprised as she had on his coat. He didn't let himself worry about it as long as they didn't get them all killed. They still had a ways to go so leaving them alone up there for now was the best thing he could do. He would just have to talk to Ed about it later.
If he'd done what he thought he had then he'd better be wary about the consequences. Al wondered if he even gave it any thought and decided it didn't matter. Either he had, and it wasn't a problem, or he hadn't and Al was right, something could happen from his actions here the past two weeks. Hopefully he was just worrying unnecessarily but with Edward you couldn't be too sure. He'd just need to call in and check up with Ann, she'd tell her if his fears came to light.
"How long was I asleep for?" Asked Ann looking very tired still.
"About an hour. We've still got time though. Did you want back on my lap? My heart longs to hold you close while I can Ann." Al said, holding his arms open to her.
She moved right away onto his lap, and he closed his armsaround her. It would work out. He had to believe that. Somehow things would be all right.
Two hours later they were on the platform to see Ed and Al off and Winry was close to tears. Ann was hanging in there and was determined not to cry. She'd even planned on being the one to drive while Winry maybe got some rest down below. Hugs were exchanged and Ann kissed Edward's cheek warmly, hugging him tightly.
"Thank you for everything Edward. Take care of Alphonse and call or write us from time to time will you?"
Ed laughed, "I'll try, but I would expect Al to be the one to write. I'll be sure we call though ok Ann? Take care of my girl for me."
"Sure you bet I will Edward. And I am sure she'll take care of me too. Have a safe journey."
She'd had a hard time letting go of Al, but she had. When they were leaving and Winry was crying silently Ann felt so bad for her. She would need some time to recover and though she was sad herself she knew she'd be able to eat tonight whereas looking at Winry she had a feeling the young blonde wouldn't touch a thing for two days maybe three as they watched the train pulling away.
"I'll drive Winry. Seriously, you get some rest down in the cabin and I'll get us home." Offered Ann.
"No, I'll be fine Ann, I just need to think awhile. I'm going to miss them both so badly."
Ann reached over to Winry's knee and squeezed it, "Ok, if you need to talk to someone I'm here for you big sister."
Winry reached an arm around Ann's shoulders and smiled, giving the teen a half hug while still holding the reins. They rode on in silence, things were just sad and the young women knew they'd been on their own for as long as it took the brothers to finish their quest. Winry was glad Ann was with her now. To have a sister was something she'd always wanted and knowing Ann too had been an only child she must have felt the same way during her life because of how openly she'd accepted the idea of being part of Winry's family.
It wasn't going to be easy for her to master her automail, but with Winry's help she would. When Edward and Al called and needed her to come to them she'd go, but she'd take Ann with her in her heart. She knew she already loved the brunette and could feel it was mutual. In a way she was eager to get back home to the new barn and all the new animal friends they had waiting. The day was turning into late afternoon and it was dinnertime by the time they'd gotten home. They'd had some bread and cheese that they'd brought to snack on and when they sat down for dinner it was really hitting them that Al and Ed were on their way.
"Brother you didn't do something you could end up regretting did you? Something with Winry that could end up with her getting-"
"AL! Come on little brother, there are some things we just shouldn't talk about and I think that is one of them. Please, don't ask something you really don't want to know the answer to ok?" Ed looked horrified that Al had asked such a thing.
"Oh Edward you can be so stupid sometimes. If she ends up-"
Ed held his hands up offensively and glared at Al.
"Ok, you win brother, I won't bring it up again, but if it happens you should know I did warn you."
Ed lowered his hands and rolled his eyes, "Yeah two weeks too late. Sheesh Al, you should relax. So what about you? Did you really fall on top of her like I think you must have?"
Now it was Al's turn to get defensive, "Edward! Honestly you think you can just change the subject like that and get away with it? This isn't like the time you ran away after cheating me in poker on our way to Aquroya."
"Oh you had to bring that up. Jeez you can hold a grudge brother," Edward groaned pitifully.
"Well it's true. Anyway, I won't question you if you just don't question me. Sound fair? Like you said, I probably shouldn't ask something I don't really want to know the answer to."
Al laughed, reached over and clapped his brother on the back, unintentionally knocking him forward with it. Ed laughed back sarcastically and then he reached for his bag. Ann and Winry had made them some food for their train ride. He liked the cookies Ann made that she'd said were her favorite kind. Winry and Ann had made a big deal out of cooking them yesterday and they tasted great. Ed tried not to remember the disgusting milk they'd drank with their own cookies after they'd come out of the oven and cooled off enough to eat.
They traveled in silence, each thinking about the girl they were leaving behind. The days ahead offered them time to put things into perspective before trying to talk about it with each other. Right now they were each feeling the echoes of the past two weeks when they'd been on their way walking to Pinako's from that very train station. One day they would walk back there again and as each sat there they hoped it wouldn't be too far off in the future. As Ed ate the cookie, he reached into the bag again and withdrew a framed photograph.
It was all four of them sitting in front of that bench. A photograph Pinako had graciously taken that Winry had gotten framed, one for each of them. Four matching sized frames to hold the same photo snapshot in time where they were together. Al thought about his own that was in his leg bag, he opened it with one hand and pulled it out. He sat there looking at their smiling faces, all around his cold metal body. He wanted so badly to be flesh and blood again, to hold that lovely girl he'd found despite still being encased in armor. If it were the last thing he'd do, Al vowed to try his hardest to help Edward solve the riddle that was a successful human transmutation.
The brothers traveled on and the Rockbells along with their new animal friends and Ann did all they could to be happy together. Ann worked hard and in time was able to drop using even one cane. She was so proud of herself, she hoped the next time the brother's called wanting Winry to come with them she could go. She missed Al terribly, as Winry missed Ed, but despite the distance, all four still felt their deep bonds as strongly as when they were together during that two-week period where Ann had come into their lives.
Many adventures lay ahead for Ed and Al, and they did call to see how things were doing, but Ed hadn't been lying when he said that if anyone wrote it would be Alphonse. He did write, mostly to Ann and they were the sweetest love notes that he didn't even show his brother. He had plenty of time to write to her as he never slept. He could only hope that Ann never showed them to Winry because he'd just die of embarrassment if he thought for one moment she knew the depth of his affection for Ann and how poetically he chose to sometimes express it.
Edward and Alphonse had no idea when they would finish what they'd set out to do four years ago, but they kept each other motivated and never gave up sight of their goals. As it turned out Al's worry about Winry being with child were thankfully a non-issue because the last time he'd seen her had been many months after they'd left after meeting Ann and Winry hadn't looked any different then she always looked. Unless it counted about how happy she looked to be around the two of them again. She'd gone off with Edward on their own a few times, but that's another story. For the point here was to experience empathy for other people and Edward certainly did feel it for Ann just as Winry, Pinako and Alphonse did just the same.
That's the thing about empathy however, it tends to be a two-way street. It can be a heart wrenching experience; one that can depress and turn bitter, that that was once pure. It can also be something that allows someone to see something from another person's point of view; feel better about their own situation and set of problems because things could always get worse, just as they could always get better. That was where having faith came into play. Faith is something special and needs no explanation; when it is asked for someone to have faith it is understood they will or they won't and it can't be determined which, even by the face they put forth to the world.
Final Author's Notes: Thank you all who read and supported this story. I hope you liked the ending and if you couldn't already guess I am planning a sequel called "Faith" and it should be getting going soon. I am going to try to get a few chapters written and then post them in rapid succession. What took longest was writing of course, and I would like to have one chapter ahead because I have several other fics I want to finish, but "Faith" is something I am anxious to get writing on as it will explore some interesting situations that are a what if about the ending of the series.
Thank you for your time reading "Empathy". I hope you enjoyed it and if you didn't check out "Guilt in the Shell" you might want to, it's a Al one shot POV of what he does at night, because as I am sure you've probably guessed, I give a lot of thought to his character. I think he is such an important part of the team that is made up of himself and Edward. Edward is a great character and I am enjoying this series immensely. I hope to write more FMA material over the coming year and really enjoy reading good FMA fic so I look forward to seeing what some of you fellow fic authors put out there in the FMA fica-verse.