Disclaimer: All characters belong to Arakawa Hiromu.
Note: This takes place long before the events in Lior take place.
Dedicated to my friend Jadechan for her birthday.
Of Mornings and Trains
A slight breeze blows in the air, the sun rising gradually over the horizon. The train platform stands bare in the early morning, all workers and personnel not due for work for at least another half hour.
However, this didn't deter two weary travelers from entering the open-air train station, the shorter one plopping down on a bench and allowing his suitcase to fall lazily to the ground. The other and much taller traveler can't possibly feel such an ailment in the physical sense. Bending over, he picks up the discarded suitcase, setting it upright with care.
The young weary traveler yawns, stretching his arms out as far as his red coat allows him to move before falling against the back of the bench. "Tell me again why we're up this early…" he mumbles, his arm lazily falling over the edge of the armrest.
"Brother," says a young and tinny boy voice from within the armor. "You said you wanted an early start to the day and you wanted to catch the first train out of here."
"Yeah, but—" the young man begins to protest, his words merging into a large yawn, "—when I say early start, I mean after ten, not as the sun is rising."
The armor's head shakes from side to side, the voice saying "Brother…" in a slight scolding tone.
"What? The train won't be here for another hour or so, Al. Shoulda just let me sleep in a bit longer."
"If I did, you wouldn't be up in time for the first train," says Al, metal hands propping on his hip as he gives his older brother the best all-knowing glare he can manage while having a metal helmet for a face.
"Well, I'm here now," his brother says, tucking his legs up onto the bench. "So, could you just wake me when it's time to get on?"
Silence reigns over the pair as Al thinks for a second, then lets out a soft sigh. "Okay, Brother," he says resignedly. After all, he's not the one who needs the sleep.
Giggling victoriously, the young man tips over onto his side, a cocky grin playing on his lips. "Thanks, Al…" he yawns, pulling the coat's hood up over his head. His body stretches out over the entire bench, a hint of his automail arm peeking out between his white gloves and the sleeve of his jacket, but only for a brief second. Within seconds, he's out.
"Sleep well, Brother," Al whispers.
Quietly, he tiptoes away from the bench, his metal feet clanging softly on the solid concrete floor. Though his brother has been familiar with the noise, Al still prefers to wait until he can hear his brother's slow and steady breathing until he moves. Listening to him lets his heart rest soundly each night as he waits for the morning.
Entering the train station as he starts to leave is an old woman, her ancient hands clutching a large ring of keys that jingle with each of her shuffling steps. Absently, she tugs at the shawl, making it tighter around her shoulders and mumbling words to a song too old for Al to know.
Al watches briefly, and suddenly remembers that he doesn't even know when the first train is due. Most train stations don't start up until around eight in the morning. Most. Some towns, usually the ones sharing the same railway system, are weird and like to start earlier. Not wanting to miss the first train, and not wanting to evoke the silly temper of his brother's, just coming to the train station at first light is the best way—in his mind—to resolve both conflicts.
"Um, excuse me, ma'am?" he asks hesitantly, slowly walking over towards the old woman.
"Yes?" the old woman replies in a raspy, dusty voice. She doesn't even look up as he approaches. She's too busy trying to open the door to the ticket booth.
"Uh, could you please tell me what time the first train is due? I'm traveling with my brother…"
The old woman finally turns the right key in the lock and looks back over her shoulder. "Oh, you're traveling with that little boy over there? What a kind big brother you are."
He begins to wonder when the woman would realize she's talking to a moving suit of armor as he chuckles nervously to himself. More so, he hopes his brother is in a deep enough sleep to miss the comment. "Er…you see," he stammers, "he's the older one." She stops moving, no doubt puzzling over why she hears a voice from someone towering over her, yet claiming to be younger. "I'm just…tall for my age."
"And you youngsters travel all alo—" she stops mid-sentence when she finally turns around and faces him. He gulps—scaring people is not the first thing he wishes to do in the morning. "Hrm." Calmly, she walks straight into the ticket booth, slamming the door behind her. Sighing, he begins to walk away when he hears the woman speak again.
"You won't be in need of much protection, not in that get-up, huh?" she laughs, her voice traveling out of the open window in the booth.
"Er, no ma'am…" he agrees, wringing his metal hands.
"As long as you siblings stick together on the road, then that sets my old heart at ease!" she declares, smiling broadly at him from behind the ticket booth. "Now, let me dig out a train schedule for you…"
"Oh, uh, I just need the first train's arrival time. We probably won't be back through here for some time," he said, approaching the ticket booth's window.
The old woman nods solemnly and looks up at Al with her old eyes. Something lay in them, perhaps pity or sadness, but hers is a look only others who know of his and his brother's condition has in their eyes as well. "I take it you two are alone then," she says quietly, folding her hands in front of her.
"…No ma'am, that isn't true," he replies, after the shock of the statement wears away. "He's here for me, and I'm here for him. So we can't ever be truly alone."
She simply smiles in reply, nodding her head sagely before digging out a piece of paper from a pile just beyond his field of vision. "Take this," she says, "in case you do find yourselves here again."
Smiling, Al takes the paper, noting the list of trains due to come in at all times of the day and indeed, the first isn't due until eight. "Thank you very much, ma'am," he whispers, bowing politely to her. Carefully, his hands fold it and place the paper in a pouch behind his loincloth.
"Have a safe journey, dear."
"Um, I have one more question to ask you…"
A weird, loud noise slowly wakes the young man. Blinking bewilderedly, he sits up and rubs the sleep out of his eyes, his mouth opening in a yawn. Many more people are now on the platform, he observes in his half-awake state. Groups of them gather at different spots along the platform, all of them eager to get on the train for their own reasons. Suddenly he fully wakes, realizing his brother's absence.
"Al?" he calls, looking frantically around from where he sits. Upon standing up, he discovers (much to his temper-testing dismay) that he has no better a vantage point of the area thanks to his short stature. How hard can it possibly be to find a suit of armor? "Al!" he yells over the din of various conversations in the train station and the sounds of the train starting up.
"Damn it," Ed swears under his breath. "Of all the times to disappear," he grumbles, angrily grabbing his suitcase.
He wanders in and out of the milling crowds, searching the entire platform for his absent brother. The other people give him looks as he passes (and sometimes pushes them out of his way) but has no luck.
"Al!" he cries out again.
Now he's beginning to get anxious. This isn't like his brother just to up and leave without letting him know.
The train's whistle blows loudly, steam blowing down along the body of the large machine. Looking behind him, he debates whether he should just wait for the next one to arrive. The last thing he wants to do is leave Al behind.
"AL!" he bellows, cupping his hands around his mouth.
Finally, he sees a metal hand waving from the train station entrance, his brother running at top speed towards him. The loud clanking of the metal suit striking the ground reaches Ed's ears far before his brother does.
"Al, where the hell—?" he begins to ask.
"No time! The train's going to leave!" his brother says, scooping Ed up with his arm.
"Ah, hey!" he yells angrily, his world bouncing on its side instead of the correct upright view he normally has. "I'm not a toy!"
"Excuse me, sir!" his brother says to the nearest conductor, ignoring Ed's complaints. "Sorry, but we need to get on this train."
"Well, you're just in time!" the man laughs. "Tickets, please."
Grumpily, Ed goes limp in his brother's arm, figuring it best for his health that he ceases his struggling. Near him, he feels Al's other hand digging around for something. "Here you go!" says his brother's tinny voice.
"Thank you sir," the conductor says, clipping the tickets with a hole punch. "You and your little boy enjoy the ride."
"WHO'S A SUPER SMALL BEAN WITH A HEIGHT PROBLEM!" he explodes, flailing his arms and legs and suitcase murderously at the surprised man.
"Brother, he didn't say that…" Al sighs, dragging his elder sibling onto the train.
"Let me at 'im, Al!" Ed snarls, clawing at compartment door despite the suitcase in his hand. Finally, he grabs one of the bars, clinging to it for dear life.
However, his brother is much stronger and easily pries his hands away from it. Grumbling, he allows himself to be led down the aisle, passing many startled looking passengers until they reach the back end. Gently, Ed is set on his feet. His pride smarting, he stalks over to the window, dropping the suitcase seat next to the one he quickly occupies. Out of the corner of his eye, he catches the conductor pass his window. Their eyes meet and he immediately starts shaking his fist at the man. Almost as quickly, the man disappears beyond his sight, his feet taking him quickly away.
He can feel his little brother looking at him. Sighing, he rolls his eyes and lets silence fall upon them as the train finally pulls out of the station. His temper quickly subsides the longer he rests there, mulling things over in his mind. But…he can still feel the scolding look on him.
"What?" he mumbles finally, folding his arms in front of his chest.
"You made that man run awfully scared, Brother. I really wish you wouldn't take such offense to those remarks."
"Come on, Al. I'm the older one here, yet everyone treats me like I'm a little kid. Every time I hear those things, I think of that stupid colonel and how much I'd like to pop him in that smug face of his."
"But Colonel Mustang's done so much for us, Brother."
"So?" he growls, twisting his body away from the passing scenery outside the window. "Doesn't mean he gets to treat me like I'm a five-year-old. I'm twelve, for crying out loud!"
"Um…" Al mutters, trailing off nervously.
"What?" he snaps.
Ed blinks. "Thirteen?" he repeats.
"Yes," Al nods. His arm dives into the pouch attached to his body once more. Curiously, he watches his brother, though the shock of his age has certainly caught him off guard.
"Are you sure? I…I don't remember turning thirteen, Al."
His brother chuckles softly, removing a little box. "Because you technically won't until later this morning. Here," he says, offering him the plain white box.
"I…" he starts to speak, but words fail him. All the traveling and endless days spent researching in libraries…how could he possibly forget his birthday?
Slowly, he opened it up, discovering a cupcake with white frosting stuck to the edges of the box within. "Al…"
"I'm sorry I can't share it with you. But I wanted to get something for you, and I promise to have something more for you once we get to the next town. Happy Birthday, Brother."
He smiles, removing the glove from his left hand. Delicately, he peels away the tin wrapping from the small baked good and takes a bite from it. The sweetness of the frosting and chocolate cupcake tastes good to him; so good, in fact, that he can feel something wet roll down his cheek.
However, he isn't sure if the cupcake is the thing that brings the tears to his eyes.
"This is more than enough," he says quietly, discreetly wiping away the stray tear. "Thank you, Al."
"Did you wish for anything?"
Ed grins mischievously, taking another bite out of the cupcake. "What else would I wish for?" he says cryptically once his mouth is empty.
Happily Al sighs, his hands resting in his lap. "I thought as much."
The brothers hear the whistle blow from the front of the train, signaling to them they still have a long journey ahead of them. Neither of them realizes just how long it really will be.
The elder brother sits comfortably back against the seat cushion and props his legs up on the seat next to Al. "Hey Al, wake me when we get to next town, will you?" he asks.
"Sure, Brother. I will."