The final chapter is here!! And it is LONG. So very LONG. Like 24 pages on Word. That's why it took forever.
A couple tiny warnings: spoilers for the last few episodes of the anime series and the movie. The end might push the PG-13 envelope a bit. Nehehe…
I love my Brother more than anyone else in this world. I would die for him in a heartbeat. I would lay down my life in front of his feet without a moment's hesitation.
It's amazing, kinda, to love someone so much that dying is the least of your worries. I remember I used to be so terrified by death, dreading that inevitable last breath as I felt him stalking my shadow. It was hard not to, considering the many times I had almost died. But now, there was one thing I feared even more.
It was scary, but I didn't mind doing this for him. Even with my life hanging by a thread. Even if I…
His gold eyes opened and were instantly aware of the knife pressed against his chest. His groggy air from before was gone, and he sat up slowly, completely awake and alert.
"Good morning," I said with a coy smile, "Did you sleep well?"
His eyes darted from my face, to the blade, and back to my face again. His eyes narrowed with annoyance. Then he smiled and started to chuckle, and laugh in an odd cracked voice that was not his own.
"I gotta give you props, kid. I'm almost impressed… maybe that's why I haven't gutted you yet."
I smiled and said with heavy mock politeness, "It's a pleasure to see you again."
I've had the pleasant good fortune of meeting different Homunculus on multiple occasions. They are psychotic, manipulative, but overall fascinating creatures, either cursed or blessed with unique characteristics that someone like myself couldn't help but be intrigued by. Being able to create an armored shell nearly incapable of penetration, being able eat through solid metal, or a child having the strength of forty men, or the skill of stealing the face of anyone in the world, your friends, your comrades…
Even your own brother.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Please, allow me to backtrack a bit.
Brother is a skilled alchemist, but he's also a skilled alchemist who's dealt with Homunculus before. That makes him twice special, and our Fuhrer is well aware of that fact. So naturally, if there happened to come a case that involved such dangerous and unstable creatures, you would want to call in an expert.
Brother couldn't tell me anything about his mission under the false guise that it would violate military secrets of some sort. But… I think in reality, he didn't want me upset and worried that he could possibly be facing them again. Along with the thing that had "killed" me. (I think that plan sort of backfired though, don't you think?) But instead I made it all about Marta… and he got upset and pissed off, so he left. This, I suppose, was not so drastic considering the circumstances.
However, something must have gone wrong. Almost from the second Winry told me about his situation, I felt there was something a little off. Something not quite right. Something that didn't fit into its proper place. It was only when we spoke, though, that my feeling was confirmed.
He didn't talk like Brother would to me. Brother has a certain air, like everyone. When he talks to me, at least, he's funny, witty, and incredibly kind, even though he doesn't like to admit it. He has a carefree attitude most of the time, so there's a minimal chance of ever upsetting anyone. He almost never forgets everything, and he holds a pretty good grudge when he's wronged. Take our father, for instance.
So I didn't buy for a second that Brother had "forgotten" our fight, that he forgave me so quickly. It would have taken some heavy groveling and apologies, a sweet kiss or two, or some other grandiose gesture to get back to being "okay." That's what I think anyway. And the way he reacted to me saying that stuff about Dad? My real Brother would haveflipped…
Therefore, somehow, during the crossfire of the fight between alchemists and monsters, Brother had been "switched." How? I haven't the faintest idea. Why? Well, I have some theories. Perhaps the Homunculus thought they could infiltrate HQ and get information on the Philosopher's Stone. To use Brother's face to gain the trust of the Fuhrer and the Military, and use that for their own sinister purposes. They seem to have a particular grudge against my father, which would explain "Brother's" interest in that matter. Maybe they did it just mess with Brother's head. Maybe they did it to mess with mine. Guess I'll never really know…
So there he was faking delusion and injury… and the false Brother was brought here… I was called in, and here we are.
That's what I believe, at least. I'd like to feel that I'm rather intelligent, but I suppose the odd dreams did help me out a little though. There was doubt, I'll admit. For a few scary seconds I imagined what would have happened if Brother, my real actual Brother, woke up with me holding a knife right above his heart. He would have been sooo mad…
However, it appears I am correct. And that leads me back to the situation where I was holding a pitiful scalpel to Envy's throat, while his hand had deftly transformed itself into a long blade that was pressing against my stomach.
"You're awfully formal for a whiny little brat," Envy snickered, like he had made the funniest joke in the world, "I guess that idiot Brother of yours was able to fix you up pretty well."
"You're awfully kind for a deranged psychopath. But why don't we cut to the chase? Here's how this is going to work; you're going to tell me exactly where my Brother is, and I won't rip open your insides."
"Ooh… I'm so scared. Why don't I just kill you instead?"
"If you kill me, my Brother won't stop until he hunts you down and destroys you."
Envy snickered. "What makes you so sure he's still alive?"
My chest panged. Calm down Alphonse, he's just trying to mess with you… "I know he's alive."
"Such confidence! Don't forget kid I already killed you once…"
Then Envy's features darkened. "It was such fun though… fighting your pathetic older Brother…! Poor poor thing, he could hardly fight back since his alchemy seemed to be broken. It was such fun smashing his head into the wall, over and over, his blood staining his pretty hair and his pathetic yells echoing against…!"
I lunged at him and managed to take a piece out of his side before he threw an uppercut that sliced into my shoulder. As I toppled backwards onto the floor he cackled and decided to make a grand exit by crashing out the window and pelting off. I clutched my shoulder and tried to catch my breath, looking out through the broken glass and saw his speck disappearing into the night.
In a brief thought of stupidity, I considered following him out of the second story window to chase him down and give him a good thrashing, but I swallowed my pride. I had more important things to do. No time to waste for revenge.
Thank goodness he's gone now… I thought he'd never leave…
I ran out the door and down the nearest set of stairs. I retraced my steps to the Fuhrer's office and prayed Roy wasn't burning the midnight oil and still in his office working. (He wasn't.)
I crept into the staircase that wasn't supposed to exist, and walked down into the depths of Central's deep, dark, bottomless basement.
It's nice to have the Gate on your side sometimes. Just when you really need it, but don't expect it, the Gate can give you little clues that could mean the world.
I've noticed, in the time I've been living with its scar on my neck, that you tend to be closer to it while you sleep. While I was dreaming yesterday, after I was shoved into the Gate by my "Brother," after I pleaded with the Gate to help me find him, I think I saw a brief glimpse of the future to come. I saw a dark, black staircase, and a huge city, buried underground and forever lost. There was a square building that was crumbling with decay. I saw a figure struggling in the rubble to get to his feet, to be free from this place. I saw my Brother, who was right underneath my nose, just like the Gate had said.
I'm usually not a meticulous person, but I found myself counting the steps and breaths and seconds as I descended that dreary staircase. A way to keep my sanity, I knew that with every moment that passed was a moment closer to saving him. I can understand how the passerby could see this as a bit obsessive and compulsive, but me with my little "sibling-complexes" were going berserk. I had been detached from him too long, and my being craved for the knowledge that he was okay…
Then I saw an odd light down a ways, deep down into the depths. My stomach leaped up inside my throat, and I ran the last hundred or so stairs, and finally came out on the other side.
A graveyard filling the whole cave greeted me. It was grey and lifeless, the air was stale. It was dead, it the complete and perfect sense of the word. The only thing that seemed to breathe life was me…
I shook off the undertaker's horror and forced myself to keep moving. I ran past rows and rows of bleak buildings until I came upon the huge complex that seemed to resonate with dark omens. I found the entrance and went inside.
It seemed to be a theater, of sorts, empty and rising up like a cavern. A chill ran over me, the kind, as they say, that you get when someone steps on your grave. Perhaps it was I who was dancing on my own resting place? No, no, that doesn't make any sense. I'm alive, I'm here and alive, heart and soul and,
And Brother, who was collapsed in a pile of rock, frozen, and lost.
I fell to my knees and crouched over by his side. I gently picked him and turned him over on his back. His face was bruised and there was a long gash that started from his chin and ended on his chest. I pressed my ear over his mouth. He was still breathing, but it was slow and slight.
I needed to get him out of here, this place that seemed to suck life from your body. I needed to find someplace safe where I could take care of him. (Perhaps I could just put him back in the hospital bed, where no one would even notice.) I hauled him up carefully on my shoulders and grabbed around his legs. My veins were pumping with adrenalin, so I didn't feel any weight or fatigue as I started my ascendance out of the theater, back along the road, and to the giant staircase where I started to climb. There was a mad rush in my head, of worry and sorrow and pain of the heart, but whatever it was fueled me the rest of the way upward.
When I finally reached the surface, even being indoors, it was a breath of fresh air. I didn't get to relax for long, though. I still needed to get Brother to a safe place. I walked from Roy's office to the hallway. My head was still spinning with anxiety, thinking about where I was supposed to go from here, how was I going to help Brother? I gently placed him next to the wall and stretched out my aching spine, trying to calm myself back down.
Then, out of the corner of my eye, Brother twitched.
In an instant I was by his side again. "Brother!" I cried shaking his shoulders, "Are you okay? Are you in pain? Say something to me, please!"
Brother's breathing was labored and his eyes looked dreadfully out of focus. He made an odd noise that sounded like a question.
"Brother," I said gently with much more calmness in my voice, "It's Al, you know? I'm right here… you're safe in Headquarters and I'm-"
"Wha… what was that Brother?"
"Not here!" He shouted with such an unusual amount of force that I nearly fell backwards.
He grabbed onto my shirt and I felt a few threads snap. "Not here!" he begged me, "Please anywhere but here, this place is… I can't…!"
"Brother! Calm down, you need help, this is the-"
"Please!" he cried out.
I grabbed his hands. "Okay! Don't worry, I'll take you somewhere else I promise!"
He released me and collapsed into my chest in a half-dazed stupor. I grabbed on and held him for a while, until his heart beat climbed back down to a slow, steady pace.
I was at a loss what to do. I was terrified that Brother needed medical attention that I couldn't even begin to provide for him, I was in a hospital, and I'd be stupid to just take him out of here. But… as far as I could tell, aside from a few cuts and bruises, there was nothing seriously wrong with him. I think he just needed someone to be with him for a while, he seemed so terrified, which was rare for someone so brave like my Brother. Yet… being alone for that long, without anyone, thinking you were going to just waste away and die…?
I prayed that I wouldn't regret this. With renewed vigor I deftly picked him up from the ground again. I turned around and headed in the opposite direction, to a discreet door that lead to the outside, into the early morning, away from the looming deathtrap that barred its teeth behind me.
Being the fact that the hotel I was staying in was on the outskirts of town, and even in my panicked state I feared I just couldn't carry Brother that much further, I knew I had to find someplace closer where we could stay. But what place would service two ragged young men at three in the morning? I prayed to the powers that be for luck and a hotel owner that was still awake.
I ran to the nearest building marked "Hotel" and rapped on the door. I banged on the door at least five minutes before someone finally opened it up, just enough so they could look outside.
A smallish young-looking woman with blond hair poked her nose out. "What?"
"Please," I begged, "I know it's late, erm… early, whatever, but do you have a room for me and my brother?"
"We're closed," she said in a very annoyed voice.
"Please miss, you don't know what we've been through! What's your name?"
She paused. "Estel."
"Estel, do you see my Brother here? He's just been in a… bad fight. We just need a place to sleep for a while… we've got money," I added quickly.
She looked us up and down carefully with a wary eye. Something must have touched on her, though, maybe because we looked so desperate. She unlatched the door and let us in.
"Thank you…" I said relieved. I hurried us both inside.
Okay… let's go over this one more time Alphonse…
Brother is tucked tight in cozy little bed. The bed is clean. I ripped up some bandages from the other sheets to wrap around his cuts. I managed to get some water down his throat without him choking. He's fast asleep, breathing, and comfortable. I'm holding his hand. He's breathing. I'm breathing. Everything is quiet…
Once I knew the world wasn't going to crash around my ears again, I collapsed in an awkward position on the mattress, with my legs on the floor and my head next to Brother, and slept until noon. When I woke up again the sun was shining in my eyes. I stood up and stretched out my aching muscles and checked on Brother.
Brother, who was now wide awake.
Well, awake might be a bit of a misnomer. He was just lying there with his eyes open, starring at me with a sort of blank look that made me feel a little uneasy. He gazed up at me and I finally said,
"Brother… I'm so sorry…"
Then, in an odd lifeless voice, Brother told me his story.
He told me of his mission sent down to him from Roy, how they had discovered the Homunculus stronghold underneath Central after the old Fuhrer had retired. There had been a panic erupting in the Military, rumors flying all around about the monsters and the City under Central, and how the Fuhrer, both old and new, knew all about it and were even in league with them. Naturally, Roy couldn't let this get too out of hand, so he called in the expert on these matters.
Marta, Brother added, was already in captivity at this point. She had assaulted a State Alchemist in broad daylight. Brother had nothing to do with it. There was nothing he could have done to stop her from being thrown in jail.
Brother told me how when the military finally formed up and got down to the city, it was already deserted. They only found a few traces that any Homunculus activity had been going on down there. But Brother was still suspicious, left the group on a whim and explored deeper. He came to an old, worn sort of theater, where Envy had a surprise attack for him. Brother said the fight was brief, he was unprepared, and his alchemy was dead.
He said when he came to, Envy and everyone else was gone. He expected the worst. He knew he needed to get out of there, but he was injured and couldn't get very far, and collapsed.
The next thing he knew I was there, and then he was here, safe, and recuperating. And that was that.
Then he said to me, in a worn voice, "That's about it Al… if you don't mind, I'm pretty tired, and I want to be left alone."
Sometimes I wonder what would've happened if things had turned out differently.
What if I hadn't survived that night we tried to bring Mom back? What would have happened if I had died that night, on that empty little floor at the warehouse, Brother unable to rescue my body? Then what?
I imagine, sometimes, about stuff like that. I imagine how Brother would have mourned my passing sincerely and deeply, but moved on. How he would have triumphed in the Military, becoming even more famous and powerful. He would've found a way to make a Philosopher's stone without any sacrifice, and restored himself whole. He would have gotten a huge house in Central, have a real life filled with adventure, a beautiful wife and beautiful children, and he would always think of me fondly.
But instead he is here, broken. My sun god, my beloved brother, has almost burned out. And in truth… it's really all my fault…
Equivalent exchange, though childish it may be to some, is still a truth I hold in high regard. Doubt had always lingered in my mind that Brother had to give up nothing to receive back my soul and my body, unharmed, to him. It's quite clear to me now that he had to give up his alchemic ability, the thing he treasured more than anything to…
Wait. That wasn't all, was it?
For me, Brother had given up his livelihood. His adventure, the thing he loved. He had given up his dream of finding the Philosopher's Stone, and had to isolate himself, his strength drained, in order to keep me a secret. He even had to loose his heart to me…
It wasn't fair. The Gate had taken too much. Brother had to give up everything just to get me back.
The next morning, it was the unspoken mutual agreement between us that we should check in with the military, and say that Brother was alive and well, and hadn't disappeared off the planet.
"I'll go down and make the call. Will you be okay Brother?"
My now silent and quietly dead Brother nodded his head.
I hurried down the steps and rang up the number on the telephone.
"Hello?" Roy's voice asked over the line.
"Roy? Hello," I said rather timidly, "How are you today?"
"Who is this? How did you get this number?"
"Erm… this is Alphonse Elric."
There was a long and serious pause. "Where the hell are you!? Do you have any idea what's been going on over here?"
"Um, I have a bit of an idea actually…"
"Your Brother is missing! Do you know where he is?"
"Yes, actually. He's right here. With me. But, you had the wrong Brother anyway."
"The… what? Wrong one?"
"Erm… yeah, sorry. That was only a Homunculus pretending to be him. You see…"
"Alphonse Elric, get down here RIGHT NOW."
"Don't make me repeat myself!" Roy barked, in an amusingly annoyed voice, and then I heard the other line go dead.
I glared at the inanimate phone. "Jeeze, what the heck is his problem?" I muttered to myself, "Bossing me around like some brainless lackey… but I better go before he gets any angrier…"
I had scarcely entered Headquarters again when Riza grabbed my arm and marched me at double speed to Roy's office. I didn't squeak a word of protest for fear of a loaded gun in my face. She gently pushed me into the doorway and shut it behind us, then stood by the threshold and didn't say a word. I barely stepped inside before a voice said, "You say your Brother is where now?"
I gave a mock-scowl and replied, "I come all the way down here for you to ask me a question I already answered?"
He frowned. "I expected better from you Alphonse. Don't get smart with me."
I stuffed my hands into my pockets and subtly threw him the same devil-may-care smile that Brother loved to bestow upon him. Roy's eyebrows twitched.
"Maybe this new body has gone to my head."
"Why is Fullmetal elsewhere and not here?"
"I told you, you got the wrong one. Sorry."
"Am I to believe there are hundreds of Edwards Elrics running around Central? Lovely, one is plenty enough to deal with."
"No, there's just one. The one I have. The one you brought back was a fake, an imposter."
Roy's annoyance seemed to do a split-second shift to intrigue. "Can you explain this… phenomenon?"
"Yes. The Edward Elric that you brought back here and hospitalized was actually a Homunculus named Envy, you know, the things you sent my Brother after in the first place? It stole his face. It tricked you. But-"
Suddenly the door opened and a distracted looking Havoc slopped inside, "Hey Roy, got that report thing you… hey who's this guy?"
"Not now Havoc."
"Whoa, sorry! I'll come back later!" Havoc quickly left the way he came. Riza shut the door again in a hurry. I couldn't help but grin to myself.
"But what?" Roy demanded.
"You were saying 'but' something. Finish your sentence."
"Um, oh yes, but don't feel too bad about it, because there's really no way you could've told the real from the fake."
"You were able to," he observed, "You caught him in a second."
I smiled a sort of sad smile and said, "What kind of person would I be if I couldn't recognize my own Brother? My own flesh and blood?" My chest panged a bit while I said this, but I hid it well.
Roy chuckled and said, "I suppose you're right… I've never had any siblings so…"
He cleared his throat, "So I take it this "imposter" has been disposed of?"
"He's gone, but still on the loose, sir."
"I see. And how is your Brother doing?"
"He's… okay. Quite shaken up, and he got a pretty good bump on the head, but I don't think it's anything serious."
"You don't think…?"
"I'm not a doctor."
"Then pray tell, why didn't you stay here so he could get some actual medical assistance?"
I bit my lip and considered my answer carefully. Brother would kill me if he ever discovered I compromised his masculinity to Roy, by saying he wasafraid of this place, so instead I quipped, "This place gives me the creeps," it wasn't far from the truth, "For obvious reasons, as you can imagine."
Roy fiddled around with his glove and stiffened his collar. "That's a bit of a shame, actually, Al…"
"What do you mean?" I puzzled.
"As you have probably noticed by now, Fullmetal's once quite adept alchemy is – and this is the lightest way I can think to put it – shot. Gone. Vanished. And it almost, in light of certain events, cost me very dearly."
He looked at me very carefully and said slowly, "In my mind there is reason to believe it has something to do with your miraculous restoration, but I won't touch that. That is you and your Brother's business, not mine."
He leaned back in his chair. "However, I'm sorry to say that I can't have a State Alchemist running around who can't do alchemy. It'd be a bit hypocritical. So you'll understand when I say I'll have to strip Edward of his title, and demote him a rank or two…"
I bemusedly cried, "But you can't do that to him…!"
Roy held up his hand. "Let me finish. I'll strip his title, unless there's someone who'd be willing to take his place…"
Riza, who had been silent all the while, said, "Sir, you can't…"
"Captain, I don't believe I gave you permission to speak," Roy said darkly.
Riza's frame stiffened in an instant. "Beg your pardon, sir!"
Roy turned back to me. "So what shall it be, Alphonse?"
"Wait, you can't possibly mean… me take my Brother's…? But I… I'm not nearly…!"
"Alphonse, you have, in practically the last 24 hours," Roy said, ticking off the events on his fingers, "Broken into my HQ, terrorized my hospital wing, caused property damage – using alchemy without a transmutation circle – correctly identified and apparently dispatched one way or another an incredibly dangerous monster, found and rescued an injured State Alchemist, stole said State Alchemist without alerting anyone, and!" he finished off in a grand gesture, "You still had the nerve to sass the Fuhrer in his own office. All in all, I'd say that's pretty much Grade A State Alchemist material."
"Even so," I said earnestly, "All the things he's done, the people he's helped…"
"Which you helped him accomplish," Roy said, "Think about it Al, with everything your Brother's done there you were, right by his side. You've seen and done just as much as he, in fact…" Roy reached into his desk and pulled out Brother's official report, dubbing him a State Alchemist. He pointed to the words 'Edward Elric' on the page, "…the only thing that would have to change is the first name." He set the paper back down on his desk.
I was utterly perplexed. "You're really serious, aren't you?"
"I'm quite serious."
"And you could really do that?"
Roy pulled out a pen. "Your name is spelled with a 'ph' and not an 'f,' correct?"
"Whoa, okay okay I understand! Just, wait a minute…"
My head was reeling like crazy. Me? A State Alchemist endowed with Brother's title? No no no, I could never do that to him…
My mind suddenly flashed back to a moment in time, it seemed like it was ages ago, when I was sort of reminiscing to myself…
I've always been a bit "duller" than him, physically and personality wise. My eyes aren't as amber, my hair is not as vivid, and I've always been a little shy. Brother has always done all the talking for me, for the most part. He's led, I've followed. We make a good team, him and me, and I'm always there to keep his temper in check. Although I've never been able to shine quite as bright.
But who can compete with a brother like him? Youngest State Alchemist in the history of the military, the brilliant scientist, the well respected youth, the prodigy, the hero, he's famous! And I? I am his sidekick slash bodyguard slash bouncer slash "that big guy wearing the armor."
At least I used to be.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining about my background role, but at the same time I wouldn't mind making a name for myself. I can't follow in his shadow forever...
Could I really do this? Simply give the word to Roy and steal all that my Brother created? Or I mean, would it be stealing? He would loose his title anyway… wouldn't he rather it go to me instead of vanishing into oblivion…?
"…maybe I will," I said quietly.
Roy raised his eyebrows. "Really?"
"Yes. Maybe, I said. I need some time to think about it. Give me a day, and you'll have an answer."
Roy smiled and said, "As you wish, Mr. Elric."
I returned home to my Brother. I knelt next to him and my knees strained against the hard, wooden floor. I reached out and held his hand, he being somewhere between a nightmare and a vast daydream, as was his norm lately.
"Once upon a time," I said quietly, speaking softly to him, "I called you my Golden Sun. Did you know that? Because you were so radiant and beautiful. You were my everything. I loved you so much, I mean I still do, but…"
I leaned my chin on the edge of his pillow. "Is this really all that's left on you…?" I whispered, "Did I really take away that much…?"
I decided enough was enough. I tucked Brother securely into his covers and kissed his forehead gently. I promised him that I'd be back before he knew it.
I stood and readied myself. I took a tentative finger and pressed it to the back of my neck. My insides chilled suddenly, like all the warmth had suddenly been stolen from my skin. My seal felt icy. But I ignored all that, and only thought of Brother, as I roughly scraped down.
The Gate was before me. It was dark and beautiful and void, like from my dream, exactly as it should be. Except now I was alone, there was no beautiful singing, and the Gate spoke naught a word.
"Please," I said in the bravest voice I could muster, "What can I give for my Brother's happiness?"
The Gate whispered in a voice that was cold and lovely.
"What are you willing to sacrifice?"
And I said, "My dignity for his. My gift, for him to receive his once more. An equal exchange. That is my offer."
The Gate said nothing more. The doors swung open and a swarm of black hands reached out and grabbed hold. I was frightened, but I didn't fight. They beckoned me toward the threshold, and endless black eyes were starring down from above, like an unholy god. Then I saw blackness. Then I knew nothing.
I'm still not sure what happened after that. As the doors closed behind me, the Gate whispered in the back of my head, of worlds and universes intersecting, doubles and doppelgangers, how one moment of one soul can change the course of an entire world.
I saw my Brother… and me… traveling again, but I was still a tall and empty metal vessel. I saw explosions and death, and I saw me engulfed in a strange red light. I saw Marta murdered by the Fuhrer. I saw Scar's death. I saw our mother evaporate into the air that she once breathed. I saw our father. I saw the Gate. I saw Envy killing my Brother…
And after a whirlwind, I saw my Brother standing next to a boy, an older and taller boy, with white-blonde hair and blue eyes. I gazed at his face. He was me.
Then there was nothing.
An absolute hollow.
An absolute holiness.
Then suddenly I was standing, and my Brother was before me once more.
When my soul finally flew back into my body, my weak exhausted frame collapsed, and my knees buckled beneath me. Once my head stopped spinning, I had a moment to realize that I was actually still alive. Alive is good. Two arms… two legs… one head… yes I was still whole.
I held my breath as I decided to test the Gate's promise. I clapped my hands together, but they didn't even make a spark. Disappointment sank into the pit of my stomach, but it was only brief. I knew exactly what this stunt might cost me, and I was more than willing to accept it.
It was then I noticed my reflection in the mirror. There was nothing spectacularly different about it, except now as I looked at the nape of my neck, the seal that was there binding my soul looked worn, old, almost gone. I gently touched it and nothing happened. My link with the Gate had been damaged, perhaps even severed completely. Either way, I knew what it meant: no more favors.
But that wasn't important, not in the least.
I ran over to Brother and rustled his shoulder. "Brother," I whispered, "Wake up for a second, please?"
He gave a sleepy mumble and opened his eyes. "What is it Al…" he asked in an exhausted voice.
"Brother," I said firmly, "This has gone on long enough. You need to stop feeling sorry for yourself."
Brother glared at me. "You woke me up to say something like that? Leave me alone…"
"Stop it Brother. You're acting like a child. Now get up."
He grumbled and rolled back on his side. I sighed; this would have to call for slightly more drastic measures.
There was an empty vase that stood on the night stand. In one swift movement I took it and smashed it over the corner.
Brother jumped up and stiffened, "What the…!"
"Fix it," I said calmly, and deposited the long shards onto the sheets.
"Are you out of your mind? I told you about my alchemy…!"
I grabbed his hand. "Please Brother? Can't you at least try, for me?"
Brother's face softened up slightly. "What makes you… Pushy little…" he grumbled toward me, but he turned to face his test.
"Do I have to…?"
He starred at the broken glass with a look of absolute loathing and contempt. I could see past his annoyance and into his doubtfulness. As he looked on, I could tell he was thinking something along the lines of "this isn't going to work."
Still, for me, he readied himself and clapped his hands together, almost like he was making a prayer. The blue light that erupted nearly knocked him back, and he gazed in awe as he beheld the vase, perfectly crafted once more, and glinting with the summer light, as if to say, "I told you so."
I was happy. Happy for him, happy that he had his life back. It might take me months to regain any alchemic talent at all, perhaps even years, but I had all the time in the world now. Everything would be fine, everything back to normal, with my Brother renewed and by my side.
He did thank me though. "Thank you Al, so much," he said. I don't think he quite knew why, though. (Maybe because I've just saved your life, jeeze Brother.) I suppose either way, it didn't matter much to me. It was enough just to hear it.
And he would never have to know about my deal with the Gate…
Brother and I stood outside HQ like two very small immobile statues.
"Are you sure you want to do this now, Brother? We can wait a while…"
"And hide away in that hotel like a coward? No thank you Al."
"Then why don't we just…?"
"Give me a minute!" he snapped.
I glanced over at him and realized his hand was shaking. As discretely as I could, I reached over and held it tightly in mine. We stayed that way for a few seconds, before Brother finally walked forward, breaking our grasp, and said, "Let's go."
Brother strode forward boldly, with a sort of over-exaggerated arrogance, and even despite his shorter legs I jogged alongside to keep up. Together we climbed the familiar staircase that led to the Fuhrer's office. Brother paused outside the doors, glaring at the fancy woodwork like he wished he could blast it away with his mind.
"Do you want me to come in with you?" I asked.
"No," he said simply, "You wait out here. This may get ugly…"
"Brother…" I chided in a scolding tone.
"You think I'm joking?" he growled. He rolled his eyes and bunched up a sleeve like he was about to charge into hand-to-hand combat. He quickly hurried in without knocking.
I was never fully informed what exactly transpired between them in that room. The heavy doors blocked any kind of eavesdropping, and I only caught a few choice words being shouted by both parties, which sometimes sounded like, "The nerve of…!" and "you don't tell me…!" and "giving away my job to my kid brother…!" Well, I guess I did promise Roy an answer about his job offer… guess he didn't expect something like this.
But anyway, about fifteen minutes in, Brother's head suddenly poked out from the door. "This is going to take a while Al," he said flatly, "We've got a lot of fine print to hammer out. Go down to the library and amuse yourself for a while, 'kay? Tell 'em Fullmetal sent you," and he disappeared before I could protest.
The library was relatively empty; guess there were no great discoveries being made on a quiet Sunday morning. Taking Brother's advice I wandered along the crowded shelves, tracing a finger so that it made a streak-line along the dusty bounds, lazily reading the titles.
I absent mindedly plucked a book from the shelf, an alchemy book for beginners, and opened it to page one. I smiled at the simply drawn out circle before me, tracing it with my hand, my mind filling with nostalgia.
I remembered fondly the all-nighters Brother and I pulled in this very library, studying for the entrance exam to the military. How ironic, I suddenly thought, how the same man who prevented me from selling my already caged soul to the state would be the same person to practically force the same job down my throat. How funny the world is, hn?
I heard a clamor behind me and turned to see Brother marching through. His face looked oddly… happy. Like he had just earned a great triumph for all Elric kind.
"The deed is done," he said dramatically.
I shook my head. "I fail to see how you keep getting away with threatening your superiors…"
"Who cares how I do it? The point is I get away with it all, right? Now hurry up, I don't know about you, but I've just about had enough of this place."
My weary face lit up, "You mean it?"
Brother offered his hand and pulled me up on my feet, the alchemy book falling lopsided on the floor. He ordered his metal gears and bolts to squeeze my palm in affection, and even though he couldn't really feel it, I appreciated it all the same.
As we walked out, however, a book that was wedged in the corner, turned upside down and haggard-looking with lack of care, caught my eye. Without thinking I snatched it from the shelf.
"So now you're a thief?" Brother snickered, as I didn't even try to make my movement discreet.
"This place owes me…" I mumbled.
Brother laughed and suddenly broke out into a trot, dragging me behind him, and we dashed off into the day to catch the last train home.
Our footsteps left heavy marks in the freshly dampened earth as we followed the winding road back to the house. My thin, cheap shoes slogged through the mud, and I couldn't help but look over in envy at Brother's shiny boots. The air was thick and muggy, like it had rained recently, and the strong smell of damp was tickling my nose. Brother and I walked along in silence, each too deep in thought to form any coherent sentences.
My hand had never left his since Central. How freeing it was, to display this tiny, almost unnoticeable symbol of adoration without fear or worry of disapproving eyes. I suppose that's what a near-death experience can give to you, the feeling that you were immortal. That nothing could ever harm you again.
When we finally arrived home, we couldn't help but pause for a moment outside the gate, both feeling like we had climbed out of an abyss.
I flipped mildly through the pages of the library book I had "borrowed" from HQ. Almost all of the words were long and formulaic, and they seemed to be strung together haphazardly making the sentences read like another language. This is a different kind of science, I supposed, while starring at a page. The words blended together and my head wandered to my schedule… need to call Winry tomorrow… it's too late to call tonight, she'd be upset if we phoned her up at one in the morning, and I can finally pick up Anubis… from the backlogged newspapers I read that Marta's hearing is going to be in two weeks, so I need to buy train tickets so I can go to that… I need to remind Brother to send a letter to Central and ask for more assignments… he's sick of his desk job, and needs to have a little bit of adventure again…
I turned the page and roughly creased it down. Not too much adventure of course.
Another page flipped. Maybe I'll tag along just in case.
"Hey Alphonse," Brother whispered.
After a long, hot shower, using enough water that it'll probably cost half its weight in gold, Brother had retired to the soft sheets of our shared place of rest. He sat there for a long time, in an odd sort of lazy contemplation, drying off his damp hair, and paying rather little attention to me. I figured he just wanted to think and left him be, continuing to faithfully thumb through my Theories of Cell Regeneration, but then I guess I sort of fell asleep…
"Hey Alphonse…" Brother said again.
I rolled to my side and said sleepily, "What is it Brother…"
He frowned at me in an incredible teasing sort of way. "I've been meaning to ask you for a while; what the heck took you so long rescuing me from the pit of doom, eh?"
I stiffened indignantly and sat up. "Excuse me? What are you talking about? I hurried as fast as I could you know, but I had a lot of stuff going against me. Anyway, why are you interested in that now?"
Brother scoffed playfully and muttered, "Excuses…" completely ignoring my last comment.
I huffed and crawled over to his place of relaxation. Brother welcomed me with open arms and I rested at his side. "Well I had to be careful of Roy, and the rest of the military and the people at the hospital. Plus Envy was no picnic either. See?" I said, slightly folding down my jacket, "He cut my shoulder pretty good…"
Brother frowned. "What's this? Sit up Al," he ordered.
He un-tucked my jacket at the shoulder and inspected it. I slightly flinched as he gently touched it with his fingers. "Aw… my poor baby…" he purred, and planted a long, slow kiss on my bandaged wound.
"Was that necessary?" I mumbled, warmth rising into my cheeks.
"It was absolutely necessary. Doesn't it feel better?"
"A little…" I admitted.
Brother laughed and said simply, "Come here you…"
Brother engulfed me in his arms and smothered me into his chest. I chuckled and played along, deciding to give in to our childish flirting, and buried my nose into his shirt. I could feel his warm skin through the fabric, fresh and clean from his marathon scrubbing. The heat was soothing, and had a calming effect on me. I pressed closer in and sighed as his fingers moved through my hair.
I couldn't help but notice, after a while, that Brother was holding me awfully… snug. Tighter and more cautions that usual. I voiced this and asked, "Are you okay Brother?"
"Hm?" he mumbled into my hair, "Yeah, I'm fine Al."
"You're quiet all of a sudden."
Brother kissed the top of my head. "Well, we haven't had a chance to be together like this in a while, you know?"
"Yeah, it's almost been a whole week…" I lightly teased.
He nuzzled the top of my head. "That's too long," he said.
His seriousness weighed down on me. I fidgeted and looked at him worried. "Brother," I started, "You know… back in Central… I never really got a chance to apologize for…"
"Oh no no no, you're not the one who's going to apologize first. I was the one who was in the wrong for that stupid fight."
"But you were just trying to protect me, and everything you said otherwise was true…"
"So what? I acted like a jerk about it. And… you know, I…"
Suddenly he began to caress my cheek with the back of his hand, and then leaned in a kissed me on the lips.
I was caught a bit off guard, and my hands stiffened at their resting place on his shoulders. His sweet lips gently caressed over mine, barely brushing, and my skin began to tingle.
Brother pulled back and gazed at my blushing face. His sun-lit eyes were wet with love. "I'm sorry Al…" he murmured softly, "Can you forgive me?"
I was too dazed to say anything intelligent. Instead I could only stupidly nod my head.
He twisted me around and laid me down in the pillows. He leaned over me and pecked my lips again, then his mouth bee-lined to my neck and he nuzzled against soft skin. His hands began to move up and down my sides, light and teasing. A shiver of pleasure rippled along my insides.
"Brother…" I mumbled, "W…wait a minute please…"
Brother leaned back up and patiently waited for me to speak, his weight resting on my lap.
"Brother," I said quietly, "If… if we're really going to do this… I want to do it with no regrets."
I fidgeted, "I don't want us to look back on this with… disappointment. I mean… Brother… if we do… that then…"
"Alphonse," Brother interrupted. He picked up one of my hands and kissed the palm. "I want to tell you something. Back in that theater, for one horrible moment I thought I was going to die, and never see you again. I… I'm pretty sure it was the worst feeling I've ever had in my life. You're still my little brother, Al. I love you, and it's my sincerest wish to make love to you tonight." I jumped as he said these rather blunt words. My heart beat even faster.
He leaned over me so that our noses were touching. "I want to be able to own you, body and soul. Won't you let me, Alphonse?"
I starred at his features for any sign of insincerity, any sign at all. I found nothing. Nothing but love, and lust, and absolute adoration. So, instead I forgot all thoughts of worry, and closed my eyes.
It was somewhere in between, between Brother's long deep kisses and my hands digging into the skin of his neck, between the entirety of my clothing being yanked off and Brother's hands exploring and memorizing every inch and crevice of my body with my soft murmurs encouraging him on, between me reveling at the feel of his rough skin beneath my fingers, somewhere between our hearts beating so loudly that they echoed against the barren room, and when I realized how much I really needed him…
"Are you nervous?" Brother asked, his voice quiet and soft.
"…no…" I replied, almost surprised at the very word I uttered. My hands continued to rub up and down against his bare, hot back.
"Are you?" I asked.
"Honestly?" he said, "Just a little bit…"
"Are you worried you're going to hurt me?" He nodded.
I shook my head. "Don't be… please Brother…"
We fell together in a bundle of tangled sheets and sweat. It was a blur of desperation, an ardor of the most beautiful kind of sin. Our lovemaking continued until the moon had risen high into the night, until we cried out loud enough to rattle the heavens from their slumber, and he collapsed on top of me, spent, exhausted, and the happiest being alive.
"Come here Brother…" I whispered to his dazed ears, and wrapped my arms tightly around his head. I urged him down to rest on my shoulder, and he instantly fell asleep.
I lay there for a long time, wide awake, sore, reveling at the comfort of having him at my side, with fingers still trembling as I caressed them blindly over his sleeping body. I felt wonderful, it hurt of course, but I could barely remember it now. It was some time, maybe an hour lying there basking in the aftermath of sex, before the magnitude of what we had just committed sunk in. I couldn't help but think, if we were ever found out, how we'd always be those boys. You know? I would always be that poor little damaged child who was too weak to fight back. Brother would always be that sick being who desecrated his little brother. I shivered; it sounded so ugly in my head, and it made my stomach feel sick.
But this had been exactly what I wanted. I was not the "innocent one" in this matter, I can take my share of the guilt and sin too, thank you very much. For one precious moment, I felt "close to God," as they say, if there is such a thing. Besides, if there is a "God," and he endowed me with desires, then can he really condemn me for fulfilling those needs? By "loving my Brother?"
Ah… I'm getting all religious and philosophical… if I keep having these rants of deep thought my head's going to implode one day… wait, didn't I already tell myself that like a hundred times before? I should be just relaxing now… sheesh…
I forced my brain to shove back all thoughts of doubt, society, dark things, God, and anything else not happy. Instead I focused on the being that was currently snoring on top of me. I hugged him tightly, and fawned over him as he slept, even thought he was murmuring and otherwise doing very un-romantic sleeping things. But he was my heart, and even in all his flaws…
…one time, when I was very little, out of curiosity I imagined a world where Brother didn't exist. I imagined not being able play with him, laugh with him, and I was only able to whisper my secrets to the stoic and uncaring walls around me. I thought this, and I sat down and hot tears came out of my eyes. I cried for a while, until Brother ran up and hugged me until it stopped. He always seemed to be doing that… rescuing me, you know, because I was little and scared and didn't understand much of the world. I loved him for it. I love him for it. Anything I've ever done for him I've never considered a real sacrifice. It's just felt like… the thing I must do.
I suppose, with all that's happened, a kind of absolute love like that is bound to produce fear, fear of discovery, of loss, of rejection and disownment, of being alone.
But that's not strong enough to stop it from happening.
I frowned a bit and poked Brother in the back until he grumbled and sat up in a sleepy haze.
"Mmrr… what is it Al…? Why are you still awake…?"
I desperately wanted to pour my late-night revelations onto his head, so that maybe I could understand them better, but he seemed so happy and content. No reason to spoil that. Of course, I was happy and content too, just with a side of my ever-present anxiousness, so instead I whispered, "How do you feel, Brother?"
Brother grinned lazily and said, "I feel wonderful, thank you, my dear brother." He randomly nuzzled my cheek as he said this.
"You never gave me a proper goodnight."
Brother raised his eyebrow. "A proper one? And how should I go about doing that?"
I closed my eyes. "Say, 'goodnight Alphonse, have sweet dreams, I'll be right here when you wake.'"
Brother leaned close to my face, and his words seemed to fall sweetly down into my ears. "Goodnight Alphonse, have sweet dream, I'll be right here when you wake. I love you…"
Don't cry for the past now brother mine,
Neither you nor I are free from blame.
Nothing can erase the things we did,
For the path we took was the same.
So where do we go
And how to forget and forgive?
What's gone is forever lost.
Now all we can do is live.
I still don't know whether to be happy or sad. This is only the second multi-chapter fic I've finished. I'm happy that it turned out so well, but I'm sad that I can't really add anything new…! But, then again, that's what epilogues are for, neh? Which, by the way, I am going to write, 'cause there's a few things I still need to wrap up for this story… (You may have noticed a few loose ends. Those will be cleared up, I promise.)
BUT anyway. Life is good for me. I've got school under control now, and I've applied to all my colleges (YESH) so you'll probably be hearing a little more from me in the future.
Stay safe, read lots, and don't forget to drink your MILK!!
P.S. In case you were curious, those last couple lyrics are lines lovingly stolen from the English version of "Brothers." Vic has a nice voice. Muhahha…