Isotope : Dideuterium Oxide

Deuterium – n. – anisotope of hydrogen that contains one proton and one neutron in its nucleus, as opposed to just one proton. Although not truly an element, it is sometimes given the symbol D. Dideuterium oxide, D2O, is also known as "heavy water", and can be used to turn Uranium into bomb-useable Plutonium.

Isotope – n. – Atoms or ions with different numbers of neutrons. Isotopes have similar chemical properties but differ greatly in nuclear stability. "Heavy water", for instance, is similar to water, but can be considered toxic, as it negatively affects the chemical balance of the human body. It is also useful in nuclear weapons, unlike its more common and more beneign counterpart.


The more I think about it, the more I think everything that happened that night was wrong. I mean, obviously what we did was wrong, and the results were wrong, but it was almost like that much was supposed to happen, like it was a lesson—not to cross the line into forbidden territory, not to play with fire, because it will burn. But everything else—no.

No, that wasn't supposed to happen. I can't believe that.

I wasn't supposed to lose Al. I know that. We were in it together, the two of us, just like we'd always been. Whatever happened, we would always have each other. Losing him—wrong. That was seriously wrong. For a while I could still see him there, faintly, and I thought I could still save him. I would've given Them anything, but it wasn't enough. I missed my chance. They took my arm, I let Them take it, but Al…

Two failed transmutations in less than an hour. I'm really sad, aren't I?

Feeling Al slip away, that was wrong. Fainting at exactly the wrong moment.

I know it shouldn't have been Lieutenant Colonel Mustang who carried me, bleeding, retching, sobbing, to Winry's house, explaining in his calm voice that I had lost two limbs and that Al had… had…

Wrong. It was all wrong.

I knew it was wrong when I woke up alone.


Chapter 1: Wrong

"Al… Al…"

"Edward Elric! Pull yourself together!"

Ed gasped for enough breath to continue his mantra: Al, Al, Al… The blood was slippery and still warm as he rubbed it on his arms, his leg, his face, anywhere he could think to put a circle.

"Elric! Are you listening to me?" Hands hovered over his shoulders but hesitated to grab them. Ed registered the blue fabric peeking out from under the dripping black sleeves, but didn't care to stop for further inspection.

"My brother… Al… I can't lose you too…" Ed began to move across the floor, dragging what remained of his leg. "Al… Come back to me… Give him back to me… You can have whatever you want… Just…"

"He's gone, Elric. Haven't you learned your lesson already? Tucker—"

"Give him back… Al…"

"Elric! Snap out of it!"

Ed sagged. It was an action made with his entire body, the life fleeing from his limbs to deposit him gracelessly to the floor, face first.

"Very good, Elric, now—"

With a sudden cry, Ed heaved his head and shoulders back up, bracing himself with his arms. "Al, this is… Al, just come back!" He slammed his hands to the floor, and the circle he'd drawn there flared into light. "Anything," Ed was screaming. "Anything, anything! What do you want? What do you want for Alphonse?"

"He's going to die." Mustang ran forward. "Tucker!" he called again.

"Sir?" Tucker was up against the far wall, as if by pressing himself into it hard enough, he might somehow sink through. It could've been just the lighting, but his face looked waxen and pale. His pupils quivered as they sought a view free of blood. They were hard-pressed to find one.

"Get me that armor! And hurry up!"

"Armor?"

"Don't play dumb! Out in the car!"

"But I was going to—"

"Experiment with it? Fine. You can do your experiments now."

"I need preparation—"

"Do it!"

"But immediately? On a human child? I was going to test it first, animals, you know, I don't even—"

"Do it now, and I will guarantee your passing of the evaluations this year. And if you succeed, you're one step closer to bringing her back."

"Y-yes sir."

"Good. Hurry up." Mustang had managed to get close enough to put his arms around Edward's waist and was now attempting to pull him from the circle. But something was fighting against him tooth and nail, something that was trying to pull Ed in, greedily wrapping tendrils over Ed's arms and legs, anchored at the circles Ed had drawn all over himself.

"Al, Al," Ed was murmuring indistinctly, staring straight ahead. He remained bent over the array, hands pressed firmly to the floor, shoulders locked.

"What are you trying to do, Elric?" Mustang snapped. He had given up trying to pull and was staring at the things engulfing Ed's body, grabbing, tugging, pulling. Could he burn them without harming the boy? "What are you trying to do?" he repeated. "You can't just attempt alchemy with no goal in mind!"

"I was stupid," said Ed. "But there's no time. Al… he's there… but he's fading…"

"I've got—" began Tucker.

"Come on, Elric—" began Mustang.

Ed's scream drowned them all out.

"Tucker, if you haven't got that array drawn—" Mustang said, tone warning.

"It's done, it's done, but—"

"So what are you waiting for?"

"I don't know if it'll work—"

"Can't you see that the boy's arm is disappearing?"

"But I—"

"Do it—!"

"ALPHONSE!"

"Ed! Ed, wake up!"

"Al, Al…"

"Hurry up, Tucker! Are you the Sewing-Life Alchemist or what?"

"I'm trying—"

"Ed, it's me, Winry!"

"Al, no, no…"

Ed opened his eyes. The cries died in his throat as he took in his surroundings: a comfortable room, fiercely neat, with golden sunlight pouring through the window and drenching everything with color. "Aargh," said Ed, shielding his eyes. "Al," he added in the same breath, still caught up in the dream. The two men continued arguing in his head until their voices faded to nothingness and left only his own voice as echoes, still saying his brother's name, over and over and over.

"Bad dream?" asked Winry, looking sympathetic.

Ed nodded.

Winry cast about for a better topic. "How's the automail?" She held up her wrench like a badge of office, as if proving that she had the right to ask.

"Eh," said Ed, trying to forget the way his brother had looked as he disappeared, trying to forget the way his good hand had closed on empty air just a second too late. "It's okay."

Winry made a sound like "hmph", and Ed was hasty to amend, lest the wrench move a bit higher and slightly to the left, into the classic I Am About To Bludgeon You position.

"I mean, Winry, the automail is perfect. It feels great. Sometimes five minutes go by without my nerves screaming in pain."

Glare. "You asked for it."

"It's wonderful, Winry," Ed tried again. "I can't believe I actually have two arms and two legs again. I feel whole."

Winry made another sound like "hmph", but it sounded a lot happier this time, and Ed knew with certainty that he had just escaped Death by Blunt Instrument.

"So… I can get up today, right?" asked Ed hopefully. "And don't try to tell me today isn't Thursday either, I've been keeping track." He motioned to the bedpost, where thirteen grooves lined one face like stripes. Some were a lot deeper and more ragged than others, testament to days of boredom with no distractions, frustration with no outlets. Now, with the ease of practice, Ed transmuted his arm into a blade, and carefully made the fourteenth mark.

("Who said you could scratch up our furniture like that?" Winry growled, voice dangerously low.

"I did," Ed growled back, voice even lower.

"The bed's too big for you, anyway," Winry snarled/whispered.

"Who're you calling twin-sized?" Ed hissed, just barely audible.)

"Yeah, it's been two weeks," said Winry. She took a deep breath and pressed on, "But you could take another few days, you know. Most people take two months after getting an automail port installed before they even move. I know your nerves can't have stopped hurting yet, maybe another week—"

"You made me promise to stay in bed for fourteen days after you installed it," said Ed. "I've done that. I'm done. I need to get up now."

"Fine." Winry set down the breakfast tray so she could offer Ed her arm. "Then let's see how well we've attached that leg, hm?"

Eagerly, Ed swung his legs off the side of the bed, feeling them come in contact with the floor for the first time in what felt like forever. He leaned heavily on Winry's arm as he tried to push himself up. For a moment he teetered precariously, with only that one arm between him and the floor, before he managed to stand.

"Well?" Winry demanded, after Ed had been staring at nothing for a few seconds.

"You guys have really got this figured out, haven't you?" said Ed, unable to keep himself from sounding impressed. "It feels so… natural. Hurts, but I really have a leg. I can walk!" He went almost an entire two feet before he fell over.

"Ed! Be careful!" Winry ran over to help him up again.

"It'll take some getting used to," Ed admitted. "But I'm nearly there. I'll be moving around in no time." He looked up, as if for assurance. "Right?"

"Right," Winry affirmed. "It just takes some practice."

And practice they did. Around noon, Winry insisted that they take a lunch break, but after that Ed was immediately on his feet again, limping, then walking, then running through the house. Occasionally he'd grab onto a wall for dear life, and more than once he accidentally kicked dents into the furniture. But by the time the sun had sunk, exhausted, to the horizon, Ed was standing outside, finally feeling air and light that hadn't been filtered through a window.

Winry stood beside him, looking proud and triumphant. She must have noticed how tired he looked, because she began to make vague shooing motions in an attempt to usher him inside.

"Winry?" he asked, not budging.

"Yeah?"

"Did Mustang… did he really burn down our house?"

Winry looked alarmed. "That was okay, wasn't it? He said you asked him to."

"What kind of right did he have?" Ed crossed his arms, feeling cold steel on his chest, even through the fabric. "It was our house. Al's and mine. And Mom's."

"But he said…"

"Yeah, okay, I did ask him to," Ed conceded. "But I should've done it. Al and I. We should have done it."

"So why did you tell him to? Why did you want it burned down at all?"

"It wasn't needed anymore," Ed said, frowning. "I wanted it gone as soon as possible, and you two weren't going to let me out of bed."

The two of them watched the sunset for a few moments. Then:

"I want to go see it."

"Ed?"

"The house. I want to know it's gone."

"Ed…"

"And I want to see if there's anything left."

"Look, Ed… I don't know how I should say this, but Al's… dead."

"No, he's not," Ed insisted stubbornly, tapping his automail. "I lost this arm for a reason, Winry. Equivalent trade. If they took the arm, they must've given something back. Al is still out there, somewhere, and I'm going to find him."

"But the house is gone. Why would Al be there?"

"He wouldn't." Ed scowled at the ground. "But look. That night. I felt him there, even after I watched his body disappear. There—I knew there was still a chance, so I drew the circles, and I activated them, and they took my arm. And just when I could feel Al coming back, I blacked out. Right? You've heard. But this part… when Mustang was trying to pick me up, to carry me here, I woke up again, for a few seconds."

"What happened?"

"I couldn't feel Al there anymore."

"He was d—?"

"Not there anymore," corrected Ed, sharply. "But the point is, Winry, he must've gone somewhere, while I was unconscious. He must've left."

"Why would he leave?"

"He was confused. Or maybe he just didn't want to see me anymore. I don't know. But now I have to find him. If I can find some clue back at the house, great. If not, I'll go to Central, and I'll become a State Alchemist and I'll research until I go blind. But there has to be a way, Winry. That's what I'm trying to say. I can't give up on him, not when I know he's alive."

Winry let Ed go to the house. There was no arguing with that kind of persistence.

It looked just the way he expected—bare. Mustang had done a very thorough job, that much could be said, at least.

After that, Ed went down to the river. In the quickly settling dusk, Ed pretended he could see his brother hunched over at the bank, sulking. Ed walked down to the edge of the river and sat, putting his flesh arm out over imaginary shoulders. He stayed like that for a long time, until Winry came looking for him. His arm and shoulder were sore for three days after that, but he didn't complain.


It was another two weeks before Pinako and Winry let Ed leave for Central. By that time Ed was pretty sure he had mastered his automail in every way, and he was pretty close to right.

There had been a lot of training involved.

He had sparred with his shadow, feeling hollow inside when he thought about his brother, who should've been there, sparring with him. Al was tricky when he fought, which was even more dangerous because Al didn't seem like he could be particularly tricky, because Al could smile innocently while he swept Ed off his feet. So Ed occasionally threw himself to the ground to make up for Al not being there to do so, and when he got up he punched his brother for getting the best of him again.

The train ride was long and boring, and he had nothing to do but fidget with his gloves and rearrange his clothing every five seconds in case anyone saw the metal underneath. He kept looking up to ask Al a question, how he was feeling, if he was sad they were going, whether he thought Winry would be okay, what he thought Central would be like. The most exciting part of the trip was getting off, only to find that he wasn't actually at Central.

("What do you mean I have to transfer to another train tomorrow morning?"

"Sorry, but trains only run to Central until sunset. Say, aren't you a bit young to be traveling alone?"

"WHO ARE YOU SAYING IS SO SMALL HE LOOKS LIKE A CHILD?")

He contented himself with getting a big dinner at the nearest inn. Wallet distressingly light, he wrestled the bowls over to a nearby table, where he discovered that he had nothing to eat it with. Now, Edward Elric was not one to be deterred by lack of eating utensils. At the moment, he thought he could've eaten the lot, bowl and all, with his arms tied behind his back. But it was the principle of the thing that mattered (and having a fork did help him eat faster), so he marched back to the lady who'd brought him the food…

…and was promptly ignored.

"Hello? I'm talking to you!" he yelled, feeling somewhat foolish when the woman scrubbing the table had to lean over to see him.

"I'm sorry, dear, did you want a sweet?"

"Fork," he ground out. "A fork. With tines."

"Yes, of course," the woman said, handing him a spoon and a bright smile. "There you go, dear. Enjoy your meal!"

Ed made a choking sound.

"Hm?" she asked.

"Never mind," Ed muttered, walking back to his table. His noodles were getting cold, he discovered, as he poked at them dispiritedly with the round edge of his spoon. His options included chopping up the noodles into little bits and scooping them up with the spoon, or getting another spoon and using them as chopsticks, or just dumping the lot in his mouth. In the spirit of inquiry, he dug the spoon into the bowl and lifted. One noodle followed it up a few inches before flopping off onto the table.

Or… Ed smirked. He picked up the fallen noodle and arranged it neatly in a circle. He'd never tried this before, he reflected, picking up another one, carefully breaking it off into the right length. It was probably easier with the more traditional materials, like chalk or paint (or blood), but this was more interesting. Now…

The other patrons looked up at the flash of light. Ed waved what looked like a spoon with points on the end at them until they looked away again.

"Aww," he muttered to himself, inspecting the array. "Yeah, this angle curved back out again. Note to self: spaghetti is not a good material to use to draw an array."

He looked back at what he'd created, a spoon that had the beginnings of tines but had apparently given up halfway through. Possibly it could function both as a spoon and a fork—he tried this, and it worked like a charm.

Ed ate as if he'd been starved for the past ten years. It was an odd feeling, being able to eat as fast as he wanted—Al, or their teacher, or even their mother, should've been there to tell him to slow down. No one said anything. Ed should've felt liberated. Instead he felt slightly sick.

He had inhaled his first bowl and was nearly done with his second when he realized that someone was standing behind him.

"Mmr?" he asked, without looking up.

"Was that an alchemical reaction I just saw?" a voice said, from over his shoulder.

"Yeah, five minutes ago. A bit of a delayed reaction?" Ed muttered, annoyed at being distracted from his meal. He set the bowl down and cast the remaining few mouthfuls a longing look, before twisting around to look at whoever was talking to him. A police officer, judging by the purple uniform and a helmet like a metal fishbowl.

"We don't allow alchemy here," he said. "People get a bit… uneasy."

Ed drew his eyebrows together. "Why? What's wrong with it?"

"We've had some bad experiences with alchemy," the police officer said. Happened before my time, of course, I only transferred here last year, but the locals don't stand for it."

"But what happened?" Ed asked, wiping his mouth on his sleeve, still expecting some sort of rebuke, or at least a smack from his teacher.

"From what I hear, an alchemist named Majhal was killing women from the village. He wanted to… Now, I'm not too sure about this either, but I think he wanted to combine their souls with dolls that looked like his wife. Or, no, not his wife. His dead lover, I think it was." The police officer contemplated this a few moments. "Anyway, it didn't work, but lots of women died for his crazy experiments. So you can see…"

"Wait, wait," Ed said, food long forgotten. "You're telling me that this Majhal guy was… transmuting people's souls with dolls?"

"I think so. Like I said, I wasn't here at the time, so…"

"But human transmutation is forbidden," Ed insisted, feeling slightly cheated to find that he hadn't been the only one to attempt such a thing.

"I'm not an alchemist, I don't know these things," said the police officer. "I just wanted to ask you not to perform any alchemy while you're here…"

"Where can I find this Majhal?" Ed asked suddenly. Maybe Al had been bound into something too? There weren't any dolls around, but he couldn't rule out that possibility. And if he had, maybe Majhal…

"You can't," the police officer said. "He's dead. It was his own alchemy that got him in the end, they think. I don't see why you'd want to talk to him anyway."

"Oh, I don't. Just curious." Ed gave a forced smile, feeling the weight of disappointment settle deep in his stomach.

The police officer laughed. "Good. I'd be a little worried if you were interested in him. The guy was obviously insane."

Ed couldn't stop thinking about Majhal all night. At first he wondered about the possibility that Al wasn't around as a human, but as a soul tied to something else. (Because Al was definitely around, this Ed knew for fact.) He wondered if Majhal had left his notes lying around, and wondered how he could get his hands on them.

But then, as elsewhere in the inn, a clock struck midnight, his thoughts turned to the women Majhal had killed. Their souls ripped from their bodies, and put into mannequins. The officer had said that the dolls had been able to walk, some of them, but not speak. They'd found one after Majhal had died, and it had sat there, staring at them, blank, painted eyes following them around the room until they'd finally destroyed it. Ed thought about this, and then about his mother, in a twisted mess of exposed organs, breathing labored. He shuddered over and over as he pictured the thing he'd created that night, wondered what it had been like to wake up as the thing. Had it been their mother's mind inside the misshapen head? Had she seen them staring at her, trying to call out to them but unable to? Had she felt it when Mustang set her aflame? And Al… Ed wanted desperately to know where Al was. Had he also made Al into a… a thing?

Ed refused to think that Mustang had burned Al, too. It was impossible, because Al had left the house before them. Right, he told himself. Think of that. Al was out there, somewhere, and Ed would find him.

But Ed's thoughts kept turning back to the writhing mess on the floor, to Majhal's dolls. When he finally fell asleep, close to dawn, he dreamed about the light dancing over an array, fading to reveal one of Winry's dolls with his brother's face and his mother's voice: "We don't allow alchemy here. This is what alchemy does. This is alchemy."


"I've got to stop having dreams," Ed grumbled as he woke, trying to get his eyes to open. "Or at least, I've got to stop remembering them." He kneaded his forehead with his knuckles in an attempt to get rid of the memory of the Al-doll that accused him with his mother's voice, and murmured, sleepily, "Al, what time is it? Oh."

Ed cleared his throat, got dressed, and peeked sleepily through the curtains. The blinding light told him that it most certainly wasn't 8 o'clock.

He dashed down to the station, where he found that he'd missed the train.

("What do you mean it's already left? You knew I was going to get on it! Why couldn't you have waited for me?"

"Sorry, but we can't delay the train for a single passenger for four hours.")

Fortune was apparently on his side, as Ed only had to wait an hour and a half for the next train to Central. While he waited, he bought a loaf of bread and tore into it ravenously, scaring passersby with the steady spray of crumbs. He thought about—This is what alchemy does. This is alchemy.—what he'd learned last night, and felt ashamed of being the same species as Majhal, much less sharing the bond of alchemy. What was alchemy good for, if people were going to use it to kill other people?

When he got on the train he felt as if ALCHEMIST were branded across his forehead, and that surely everyone was staring accusingly at him. The feeling wore off, though, when he realized that people had other things to worry about. He relaxed into his seat. There were worst things to be associated with than alchemy after all, he thought to himself, as he surreptitiously checked that his automail was covered. When he looked up, he caught a dark-haired man staring at him. Or maybe that was just nerves.


When Ed got off the train, it was into stinging rain and the sudden realization that he hadn't planned this far ahead yet. He'd figured that once he got to Central, he'd figure out what to do from there, but he suddenly realized that that he had no idea where to find Mustang, and consequently no idea how to become a State Alchemist. Of course, he'd had a little foresight, and had called Mustang the night before (making a fool of himself by stumbling over every other word), and Mustang had arranged to have someone pick him up. The only problem with that was that Ed was about five and a half hours late, and that there was no sign of a welcome party.

"Forget this," Ed muttered, jamming his hands into his pockets and picking a random direction to walk in, head bent against the force of the rain. "I'm not waiting here for someone to show up. I'm sure I'll find it on my own."

He wasn't too sure what it was he was looking for, but he imagined it would all be made clear once he found it. For now, the idea was just to keep moving, keep moving, never mind that he had already spent most of his money on the train and on the inn the night before…

Faint snatches of music caught his ear through the rain, and he made his way over to the building it seemed to be coming from. A bar. He pressed his nose to the window and gaped in astonishment. There was a man inside with two automail hands, and he was using them to play the piano.

Ed stared down at his soaking sleeve, then looked back into the room. The man's fingers moved quickly, faultlessly over the keys, glinting metallically under the light. Here Ed was, barely able to hold a cup first thing in the morning, and there that man was, coaxing music out of the piano like it was the most natural thing in the world.

He couldn't hear much of the music, but he knew the piece ended when the fingers stopped moving and some of the more sober patrons applauded or requested another song. He offered a few soft claps of his own as he walked away, wondering if his automail limbs could do something like that.

The rain was lightening when Ed heard it—the soft, plaintive mew of a cat, somewhere up ahead.

Ed stopped where he was.

Al would've carefully approached the cat by now—

"Don't worry, kitty, I'm not going to hurt you. Shh…"

—Yes, exactly like that. And the cat would've trusted him, because, Al was Al, after all, and let him scoop it up—

"Shh… There's a good kitty."

—Right. And Al would've brought it inside where it was warm, and he would've toweled it off, and fed it, and petted it until it fell asleep. And then, only then, would he have looked up with that pleading expression, and asked—

"Where did you go? Oh, there you are. Stay there, okay? I'm coming to you. Just stay… right… there…"

No, that wasn't what Al would've asked…

Suddenly, Ed realized that the voice illustrating his thoughts hadn't just been in his head. It was there, behind that building, in that alleyway, just out of sight, and it sounded exactly like Al.

"It's okay, kitty. Don't be scared, I'm here…" the voice continued, soothingly.

"Al?" Ed breathed, hardly daring to believe it.

A cat appeared at the lip of the alley, and Ed stared at it as if it were a ghostly apparition. Any moment now, Al would reach out and grab it. Ed inched closer, closer…

"That's right," said the voice. "Just stay there, kitty. I'm going to pick you up now, okay? Ready?"

Ed nodded, tensing. He was ready.

"Okay, here we go…"

A pair of hands emerged from slowly from the alley. Ed felt his eyes bulge out of his head. He'd considered the idea that Al had been there all alone, that the search was over, but he hadn't actually believed it…

Now the hands lowered to carefully scoop up the cat. Ed pounced at the same time.

There was stunned silence for a few seconds. Ed stared at the hands he had grabbed. They were huge, covered with metal, and dwarfed the cat within them. Then he looked up. And further up. The owner of the Al-voice wore a bulky suit of armor, with spikes on his shoulder plate and helmet. He looked as if he could tear down buildings. He looked as if he tore down buildings for fun.

The Al-giant spoke: "Ehhh?" he said, voice sounding panicked and rather young considering the body it was coming from. "I'm sorry, is this your cat? Only I saw it out in the rain and I felt sorry for it, and I didn't realize it belonged to anyone and I just wanted to…"

It was not Al. That much was undeniable. But he sounded so much like Al, and he acted so much like Al, for all his menacing appearance. As the giant continued to blabber apologies and Ed struggled to hold back both laughter and tears, Ed finally realized that he was still holding on to the giant's metallic wrists (his hands didn't even go all the way around!), and quickly let go.

"Er, yes," he said, taking the cat and the easiest explanation for having randomly jumped on this stranger. "This is my cat. But that's okay," he added quickly, when the giant began to apologize again. "Thanks for helping."

"No problem."

"Right," said Ed, "Right. Well, I'd better be going."

"Right."

"Er," said Ed, who wanted to find out how it was possible for this man to sound so much like his brother but not be his brother. "Er."

"Do you need a place to say?" the giant asked, kindly.

"Well, yeah," Ed muttered, looking embarrassed. "Yeah, actually."

"You're welcome to stay with me, if you want. My name's Alphonse."

Some time passed.

"Um, excuse me, but you're squishing your cat," the giant said, hesitantly.

Ed forced himself to breathe, forced his hands to unclench. The cat made a highly displeased sound and scratched Ed affectionately.

"Ow!" Ed moaned. "Um… What'd you say your name was?"

"Alphonse?" Alphonse sounded slightly uncertain, as if maybe he'd said something wrong.

"That can't be!" Ed yelled. "Alphonse is my b—" The cat yowled and scratched Ed again as his hands clenched involuntarily. "Cut that out!"

Alphonse looked alarmed as he raised his hands in the universal placating manner. Ed couldn't help but be reminded of his brother, and forced himself to calm down.

"I mean," said Ed, "I mean, Alphonse is my… cat's name."

"Really?" Alphonse asked. "But she's a girl."

"Yeah, but I didn't know that when I named her, see?" Ed was grinning manically by this point. It was the only alternative to breaking down right there and then. "Now I call her Alph… elle…"

"Alphelle?" said Alphonse.

"Al… pha. Alpha," said Ed, confidently, in a no-way-am-I-wrong tone.

"Alpha," repeated Alphonse. "That's a nice name."

"Isn't it?" Ed's shoulders shook. He hoped it wasn't noticeable. "I like Alphonse better though."

"Thanks," said Alphonse. "Are you cold? I live just over there."

Ed nodded mutely.

"So, what's your name?" Alphonse asked, as they began walking.

"Edward Elric," Ed said. The cat wriggled madly in his hands.

"Nice to meet you, Mr. Elric."

"Yeah," said Ed. He had half a mind to make Alphonse call him Brother.

"Are you new to Central, then?" Alphonse asked.

"Yeah," said Ed. "I'm here to become a State Alchemist."

"Really? Aren't you a bit young for that?"

"I'm eleven." Ed waited for approximately two seconds, before: "WHO ARE YOU SAYING IS TOO SMALL TO BE THREE MUCH LESS ELEVEN?"

"Eh?" Alphonse backed away. "I didn't say that…"

"WHO ARE YOU SAYING IS SO SHORT EVEN IF YOU HAD SAID ANYTHING THE SOUND WAVES WOULD'VE PASSED RIGHT OVER HIS HEAD?"

"I didn't—"

"WHO ARE YOU SAYING IS SO TINY HE LOOKS LIKE A FETUS AND PROBABLY HASN'T EVEN DEVELOPED EARS YET?"

"But I didn't say anything!" Alphonse protested.

Ed sighed. "Fine. But I really am eleven."

"Okay," said Alphonse. "But even so, that's pretty young. Are you sure they let eleven-year-olds take the test?"

"I don't know. Some guy named Roy Mustang told me to come take it. Ask him."

"Roy Mustang?" said Alphonse.

"Yeah," said Ed. "You know him? I need to go find him. Couldn't even have given me directions, the jerk."

"That's no problem," said Alphonse happily. "I'll take you to see him first thing tomorrow morning. Roy Mustang is my brother."

"What?" Ed stopped walking.

"Uh… Roy Mustang is… my brother…?"

"He—you—" Ed sputtered. How could someone who acted so much like Al be related to Mustang? "Just who are you anyway?"

"I already told you," the giant said, armor creaking as he turned. "I'm Alphonse. Alphonse Mustang."

To be continued...