Author's Note: WOW. It's been forever, huh? Well.. same old excuses for why, I'm afraid. School, life, school, college stuff… The usual. Thank you to all still reading and who stuck with me. It really means a lot. This chapter is dedicated to dzioo and Dragon Rider Tayo. Thank you both for the motivation to FINALLY finish this chapter and to let me know that people really care abut my stories. You guys are the greatest!
My December III
all the things left behind
Instantly Ed felt his chest tighten and a large lump form in his throat with Rose's words.
He suddenly dug his heels into the ground to slow the pace, but it was useless due to the ice and snow.
"N-No, wait! I-I can't!" Ed stammered, trying to pry himself from Rose's surprisingly strong grip.
"What do you mean 'you can't'?" Rose demanded, halting so suddenly that Ed bumped into her.
She turned, eyes narrowed and a confused Cody by her side. He blinked between the two of them. Rose released him and dropped her now free hand to her hip.
"You're going to avoid your own brother? That's not the Edward I remember."
Ed's face flinched and he looked away quickly, eyes sudden extremely sad. The look made Rose's face soften and a frown tugged at her lips. Suddenly she understood. The Edward she remembered was gone.
"I want to see him," Ed muttered. "But..."
"But?" Rose pressed.
"But I doubt... he wants to see me."
"Mama?" Cody suddenly interrupted, tugging eagerly at Rose's arm. "Can I go back and play now? This is boring."
Rose smiled and released Cody's hand. "All right, but you need to come back in soon for some lunch, all right?"
Cody nodded and hurried off happily. Ed watched him go, turning to see him join a group of other kids. They all went racing off together.
"Ed, Al isn't angry with you. Not anymore," Rose said, keeping her voice gentle. "You leaving hurt him most of all, but you know that. Don't make him hurt anymore. He misses you like I'm sure you miss him. A lot has happened, but I don't believe your bond with him has grown even the tiniest bit weaker. Please come see him."
Ed was silent, still turned toward where Cody and his friends had run off to. Thus his face was hidden from Rose, but she could only imagine what it looked like. She looked at him, eyes pleading and hands balled into fists at her side.
"Al is... He's sixteen now, right?"
Rose looked surprised. His voice was very emotionless. "Yes... He is."
"He lives with you?"
"Sometimes. Al has turned into a wanderer as of late. He doesn't really have a place to live ever since Resembool was destroyed. He sometimes stays with Winry for several days. But when he's not with either of us I don't know where he goes."
Rose stared at the back of his head, waiting for him to continue. When Ed offered nothing more, she reached out and touched his shoulder gently.
"Please come see him."
"...All right. I will."
Rose smiled and Ed turned around to face her, offering a small smile of his own. Rose then lead the rest of the way down the street to a small skinny building between two businesses. Both were automail shops and Ed's eyes lingered over them curiously.
"Winry got me into the business," Rose chuckled. "I got interested so she taught me everything. Now we both own businesses. I'd offer to make you some limbs, seeing as how your current ones don't work well, but Winry might get angry at me." Rose opened the door and waved Ed in.
"Heh, don't bet on it. I'm not welcomed there anymore," He grumbled bitterly.
Rose frowned as he moved past her and shut the door. Either Winry was really that mad or those words belonged to Grett. She honestly couldn't be sure at this point. They stood in a narrow carpeted hallway with a closet door directly in front of them. In here was where Rose disposed of her heavy jacket, scarf, hat, gloves and snow covered boots. She took Edward's coat in a polite gesture and led him down the narrow hall, then a sharp right up some steep steps. The next door they passed through was her homely living space, set up almost exactly like Winry's apartment.
"It isn't much," Rose commented as she closed the door behind Ed.
Ed glanced around before he settled on the small couch. "It's nice."
Rose smiled. "Anything to drink?"
Rose nodded and went into the kitchen anyway. Ed sighed and leaned back against the soft cushions. He tilted his head back and closed his eyes.
Edward was not recovering. It had been a few weeks and he still seemed to be in poor health. He rarely left his room.
"No, he's fine physically. I'm sure he is," the doctor had told the worried Rockbells. "It's his mental health that has me concerned. If I had to diagnose him, I'd say he's in a bout of depression."
"What can we do to help him?" Pinako asked calmly. Even in her last years she was taking care of her adopted children.
The doctor scratched his chin thoughtfully. "I can't say. Mental health isn't my field. If it gets worse, he needs to see someone. By you know what they say. The best medicine can come from home."
Home. Winry almost laughed when the doctor said that word. Ed didn't believe this was his home. Besides that, what could they possibly do to help him? She was so sure seeing Al again would bring a smile to his face. Granted, it did, but not in the same way. He had lost something dear to him and it was still hurting. They advised the doctor's words and kept an eye on him for any signs that he was getting worse. The problem was, Winry had no idea what she was looking for. Al visited him all the time. The young boy of twelve stayed extremely positive and even managed to drag Ed into the world a couple of times. But it seemed like every time he saw her face something snapped and he disappeared back behind his closed door.
Winry played on all kinds of emotions during this time. She went from sick with worry to increasingly frustrated with Edward's lack of ability to communicate. She had tried numerous times to get him to talk about what was causing this sudden alienation from everyone. But she hadn't been able to do it. He merely shrugged her off or it turned into an argument which left them both sour for the rest of the day. Her reunion with Edward after two years had played out a lot differently in her head.
"He won't really talk to me either," Al said sadly one day, sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of tea in his hands. "He tells me not to worry. He says it has nothing to do with me, but he won't talk about it."
Something told Winry it had everything to do with her. After several days of this, she finally got fed up. Winry was not a very patient person when it came to Ed's stubbornness. She was going to prove she could be just as stubborn as him.
It happened on a particularly cold afternoon. The sky was gray, threatening to add more snow to the ground. Ed was where he usually was these days, sitting on the bed locked in his room currently absorbed by a book. It was the reason he didn't hear Winry knock or notice she was even there until the door had shut behind her. He glanced up curiously, blinking a few times to focus. Winry looked at him curiously, noticing a pair of reading glasses resting on the end of his nose. She titled her head as she took in this new look.
"Since when do you wear glasses?" She asked.
"Since I discovered it helps me read for longer periods of time and not give me a headache," Ed replied with a shrug.
He removed the glasses and folded the bands before he looked back up at her. "Do you want something?"
"I'm worried about you, Edward..."
Ed made a face and looked away from her, down to the cover of the book now resting in his lap. He placed his hand over it as Winry shuffled over to stand at his bedside.
"You aren't acting like yourself," Winry continued carefully. "You're making Al sad."
Ed's hand tightened on the book and he sighed, closing his eyes. "I'm sorry to worry you both..."
"If you were really sorry, you'd tell us what's wrong," Winry replied stiffly.
She knew she was taking a huge risk by saying that, but she had to do it. She couldn't stand idly by anymore. For Al's sake and her own, she had to get Ed to talk. Ed was silent for a long few minutes, merely sitting completely still with his eyes closed. Finally he opened them and turned to stare out the window. Winry watched him intently, linking her fingers together in front of her nervously.
"Where I was... on the other side of the Gate... there were people who had the same faces as the people here. They were kind of like... alternate personalities or something," Ed began slowly.
Winry titled her head slightly. She was actually surprised he was really opening up to her. Even if she couldn't make heads or tails about the whole Gate thing, she was certainly going to try for his sake.
"An alternate reality?" She inquired.
"Something like that," Ed replied, shrugging his left shoulder. "I met someone there who looked like Al... His name was Alphonse, too."
Winry looked fascinated. "A person with Al's face? I can't imagine."
"He had blonde hair and blue eyes. He was seventeen years old and taller than me."
Winry giggled softly at the way he had said that. She could almost see his face scrunch up in annoyance. He wasn't facing her, however, so she could just imagine. Slowly Winry lowered herself to sit on the edge of his bed.
"It was hard to look at his face. He just reminded me of Al and yet he wasn't Al at all. He was very kind to me. I also met... you... while I was there."
Winry failed to hide surprise from her face. She pointed to herself stupidly. "Me? You met someone there who looked like me?"
"Yeah, except her eyes were green. She was from a rich family..." Ed suddenly gave a small dry laugh. "She was into mechanics just like you. Not nearly obsessed with them, but close enough."
"I'm not obsessed!"
"Of course you are."
Winry made a face at the back of his head and stuck out her tongue. Then Ed's voice took on such a sad tone that it made her heart ache.
"But she... Winry in the alternate world, I mean... She died." Ed turned his head so that Winry could see the profile view of his face. The look on his face matched his tone of voice. "She fell in love with me at some point, but I... I was so cruel to her. I didn't want to love her because... I didn't want to stay in that world."
Winry felt herself blush despite herself. The way he talked so openly about this... She certainly wasn't use to that. She felt embarrassed suddenly and she wasn't quite sure why. Her eyes lowered to her hands folded in her lap. So now it all made the sense. The reason her face made him run away... the reason he was sad to look at her. She felt silly for being mad at him for that now that she knew the truth. A sudden thought struck her. Had he... actually fallen in love with her? Did he love that other version of her? The thought was painful and yet comforting at the same time. She glanced up at him.
Ed nodded slightly. "It was hers. She gave it to me."
Winry noted how his eyes seemed to recall something painful and she looked back down at her hands. Slowly a small smile crossed her lips.
"If she was anything like me... I'm sure she understood why you pushed her away."
Ed was silent for a moment. For some reason hearing Winry say that hurt. He looked to her. "...Do you think so?"
Winry looked at him and smiled. "Yeah. It may have hurt, but... I'm sure she realized you were trying to protect her from hurting more."
Ed had never thought about it that way before. The problem was deeper, however. He blamed himself for her death. He treated her unkindly but in the end she had loved him. She had given her life for him even as he turned her down. Her unyielding devotion to him had been strangely frightening. He didn't want anyone that devoted to him. (Al was an exception.) He didn't want anyone loving him that much because he knew. Everyone who had ever loved him that much had been taken away. His mother by death... Al, technically, with the loss of his body... and Winry Diamond by Envy's cruel hand.
"Thank you... Winry..." He muttered after a moment.
Winry stood and clamped her hands together behind her back, smiling. "Anytime. Will you talk to Al now? He's really worried."
"Good! Get better soon, okay? Then we can finally equip you with some good automail."
Ed blinked and glanced at his right arm. He had completely forgotten that he still had that crappy prosthetic his father had crafted for him. He nodded again. Winry smiled once more before she left the room. Finally things seemed to be looking up for a change.
"Ed? Ed, wake up."
Ed suddenly jerked away and Rose withdrew her hand from his shoulder. She smiled at him as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes and sat up. At some point Ed had fallen over onto the couch as he had drifted off to sleep. A blanket had been laid over him.
"Ah.. I'm sorry..." He muttered. He was regretting getting up early this morning.
"Don't worry about it. You've had a long day I'm sure," Rose replied.
"How long was I asleep?"
"Not too long. Here, come into the kitchen. Are you hungry?"
Ed crawled off the couch, brushing the blanket away as he did. He stood and paused to stretch before he followed Rose into the kitchen. He didn't enter, however, and instead froze in the entrance way. Someone was already in the kitchen sitting at the kitchen table with a sad expression in his eyes.
"A-Al..." Ed muttered in surprise.
He wasn't sure why he was so surprised. After all, he was here because Rose wanted him to see his brother. So that obviously meant his brother was here. Still that didn't make this any easier. It still hurt to see him... to have his heart clench at the sight of his now sixteen year old brother. Al looked surprisingly different. He had kept his hair short. It looked almost the same as it had when he was a kid. He had certainly grown up, however, and his cute boyish face had turned into the handsome face of an adolescent. He was taller. Even sitting down he looked a little taller than Ed and that irked him just a bit, as it always had. Had Ed not been so frightened, he may have made a joke about this. Al stared at him for a long time. He merely stared, eyes unreadable. Ed could only guess what he was thinking. During this silence, Rose quietly slipped out of the kitchen without a word. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, Al slowly stood up from his chair. One hand on the table, he turned his body slightly to face Ed.
"...When did you get back?" Al finally asked.
He wasn't that tall after all. Ed still had a few inches over him. Ed bowed his head to hide his shame.
"Last night... or... early this morning."
"I see. I take it you already saw Winry."
"We... kind of found each other."
Another uncomfortable pause of silence. Ed had never felt the guilt more in his entire life. He shifted a bit underneath Al's gaze.
"I... hated you for leaving, you know," Al suddenly said softly.
Ed flinched inwardly, but didn't dare look up.
"I said to myself, 'How could he leave again after vanishing for two years? How! I hate him! I hate him for leaving!'... I told myself I hated you for the longest time. But I knew... I really didn't. You had your own reasons for leaving... reasons I probably won't understand."
That was the problem. The reasons Ed had disappeared... even he wasn't sure what they were. He stood stalk still, afraid to do or say anything. But suddenly Al had embraced him and had buried his face into his shoulder, voice tight with tears.
"Don't ever leave me again, Brother..."
Ed smiled slightly. He may look different, but Al was still Al. He didn't hesitate to return Al's embrace.
"I won't, Al. I won't. I promise."
Things settled slightly after that. Al suddenly seemed happy and cheerful again as was his personality. He chatted with Ed openly. There was no tension between Al and Ed anymore. Not like there was with Winry, but that was different. Even after really bad fights, Ed and Al could always be fine a few minutes later. Winry and Ed, on the other hand... Sometimes it had taken days for the two to make up. Ed decided to stay with Rose for awhile. He didn't go back to Winry's place because he was still angry. His anger was more targeted to Grett, but Ed decided Winry could be the target too. After all, she was the one going around blabbing about everything that had happened to complete strangers.
"You know that isn't the case, Brother," Al sighed, interrupting Ed mid-rant. "Grett came to her to learn how to make automail. They became good friends and Winry just began to confide in him."
Unfortunately Al's words just seemed to piss Ed off even worse and it wasn't until it was too late did Al realize how his words must have sounded to Ed. He thought about going to see how Winry was doing, but Ed told him not to get involved with their problems. Al was slightly hurt by that. After all, Winry was his dearest friend and Ed was his dearest (and only) brother. Seeing them like this was hard on him, too.
"You should talk to her," Rose told Ed one day, trying to help out Al when the boy had complained to her. "When Grett's not around, I mean. You know she'll listen to you. She's never turned you away."
"Yeah!" Al agreed. "Winry's always been there."
As much as Ed appreciated their encouragement they were starting to sound like nagging parents. He also noticed how carefully they avoided the subject of their past relations. He guessed that was wise considering he just might snap if they dared. Finally, after constant bickering, Rose and Al won and Ed reluctantly wandered down the street to Winry's apartment. However no one was home when he got there. He thought she had just gone out, but after searching the obvious places he could still not find her. Worry began to grow and it became so bad that he dared to go to her shop, confronting the one person he wanted to avoid. Grett gave him the dirtiest look when he entered.
"Where's Winry?" Ed demanded, returning the glare.
"What do you care?" Grett snarled, turning away from him to carry some spare parts to the back room.
Ed followed him. "Just tell me, will ya?"
Grett dumped the parts on an old table and turned to face Ed. "She was so worried about you after you left and never came back. Why do you keep doing that to her!"
Ed flinched, but didn't dare let Grett see. "Shut up! Are you going to tell me or not!"
Grett stared at him long and hard, arms crossed over his chest. Ed could almost hear Grett debating with himself. Finally the man sighed and dropped his arms.
"Winry's in the hospital. Maybe if you gave a rat's ass you would have known that."
But Ed didn't hear Grett's insult. He was already out the door.
If I have to suffer like this, it would've been better not to have known each other at all.