Disclaimer: I don't own Fullmetal Alchemist or any of the characters or concepts therein. They belong solely to their respective creators. I am making no money from this story, so don't sue me please.
Moonlessnight: Where this particular idea came from is well beyond me. It just hit me this morning when I woke up and I had to write it down. Here's to hoping it makes sense to everyone... I do realize that the first few sections move along quickly, but that is because I wanted to focus more on the end. Please keep that in mind while reading and try to use your imaginations where possible. (See end notes for details.)
I am still fairly new to this particular anime, but I have found myself musing on Al's predicament for the last few days. Not having a sense of touch has got to be difficult, but who knew it could go this far…. Poor Al and Ed have just met the darker side of my musings. I sure feel sorry for them. Beware! Angst is everywhere in this fan fiction.
Also, please note that this is my first FMA fanfiction ever. As such, there are probably a few character flaws and what-not, but I am trying to keep everyone IC. So, see anything that's terribly OOC? Let me know and I'll change it around a bit. This little one-shot is far from set in stone. Thanks!
The Necessity of Breathing 12/29/05
Ed yawned loudly and swung his red jacket over his shoulder in a lazy manner. It was too early in the morning to be awake yet but Colonel Mustang had summoned him from his sleep with a military order he simply could not refuse. So Ed now walked slowly across the courtyard with Al close behind, the first taking advantage of the cold winter air to wake him by removing his jacket and the later becoming caked with frost and not caring one bit. The wind blew suddenly from the south, whipping the thin layer of snow into white flurries and Ed shivered at the chill. "O-okay, I am awake now." He said, drawing his jacket over his shoulders in a smooth motion and pulling it close. "Mustang had better have a good reason for dragging me out here at this hour of the night."
Behind him, Alphose chuckled. "Technically, it's morning brother. The sun just is not out yet."
Ed glared up at his younger brother and sunk his hands into his jacket pockets. "Yeah, well if the sun isn't out, then it's not morning in my book." He grumbled, rolling his shoulders in typical, brooding fashion. They reached their destination and Al opened the door, knowing full well the Ed would not open it simply because he knew Mustang was behind it somewhere.
There were times Al felt that he must have been the older brother before the accident because his brother was just too childish for words. "After you, ni-san." Al said, bowing politely.
Moving to enter the door, Edward brushed against the metal of his brother's body and gasped involuntarily as the cold bit into the briefly exposed skin of his left forearm. "Jeeze Al, you soaked that cold up didn't you?" He said playfully as he walked on past. Al only stared at him for a moment before following him.
Unintentionally, his older brother had just stepped into tabooed ground for him. After all, metal cannot feel the chill of a winter morning even when covered in frost as he was. He could not feel anything at all.
Hours later, the brothers walked together down to Central's train station. They had been ordered to travel to a distant village to investigate the rumors of a strange beast roaming the surrounding forest. Four-legged with wings and fur and sporting a nasty set of claws and teeth, there was little doubt that the beast was a chimera. It was Ed's job to discover what kind and why it was there in the first place. It was simple enough when all was said and done. It was also proof that Roy Mustang was beginning to trust them with more than petty tasks, a fact that delighted Ed to no end.
Deep down, Ed looked up to Roy as a father-figure (whether he knew it or not) and the trust shown in placing him on this mission showed that Roy thought he was growing up. It left Ed with a grin on his face that he could neither explain nor deny, and Al was pleased too. His brother was happy, and that made him happy.
As they handed their tickets to the dreary conductor and boarded the train (with several suspicious looks cast at Al's armored form), the boys bantered about ideas of what the village would be like. Al insisted there would be quaint little farmer's markets to shop in and friendly villagers to talk with. Ed said there could not be any open-air markets with a beast lurking so near and mentioned the usual reaction people had to State Alchemists. This, of course, opened a bit of a debate that occupied the brothers for the rest of their train ride. Yet, as they spoke, they both avoided discussing the beast itself. This was partly to keep nosey passers-by from overhearing, but mostly because they both dreaded facing the chimera.
Neither of the brothers had found memories of chimeras…unless the face of a little girl counted. They feared it to some degree, but nothing could prepare them for what awaited. They could not comprehend the true horrors that lay in wait for them in that sleepy little village. There are things in nature that are better left alone, and those who break the unspoken laws of that same nature frighten even the most wild of beasts.
A cornered animal will growl, a wounded animal will bite, and one ripped from the governing laws of the world will kill without question.
Yes. Some things are better left alone.
Three days later, deep in the woods, a madman stood laughing. It had been hard work, perfecting his chimera and training it to obey, but it was worth it. Here at last was the Fullmetal Alchemist, the one he had so longed to destroy since he had first heard the rumors of his existence. A child, thirteen years old at the time, had come before the state board claiming to be an alchemist, and the state had believed him. It was laughable, ludicrous to a fault, but there was more.
That boy had somehow become a hero to the people, although any sane man should know that children could not perform the miraculous deeds they so willingly attached to his name. They were fools to believe in their precious Fullmetal, and the man who stood laughing was just the one to teach them that.
"So, you have come at last, Fullmetal." The man said, leveling his gaze on the massive suit of armor he assumed housed the boy he sought. "You have come to meet your doom, here in these woods." The man laughed again.
Ed stepped forward, holding his head high as he glared at the psychopath before him. "No one's going to be dying today, gramps. Not if I have anything to say about it."
The laughter fell silent as the man dropped his gaze to the much shorter personage that had addressed him. "And just who might you be? Alphonse, the younger brother perhaps?"
Curbing his anger (a very rare occurrence for him), Ed squared his shoulders and stood a little straighter. The sunset light carved shadows on his lithe form, but his golden eyes showed bright with an inner fire. "I am Edward Elrich, the Fullmetal Alchemist, and I am here by the order of the military to take you and your over-grown bird down."
Red water dripped from fingers seared beyond use and eyes glinted dangerously with a drug-induced madness. "You are the Fullmetal? You? You are so small my beast could squash beneath its feet without noticing you were there!"
Growling like a beast himself, Edward rolled up his sleeve to brandish his auto-mail arm at the man. "Who are you calling a pipsqueak, you jerk?"
Al grabbed his brother from behind, holding him in check until his anger subsided somewhat. "Be careful with this one ni-san. He is not sane."
"And anyone we fight ever is?" Fullmetal leaned forward against his brother's hold to shake his fist and yell even louder. "You like unleashing that beast on the villagers, don't you? You like wielding power over those who can't stand up for themselves, but I'll tell you what: I'm standing up for them! So pack up your little pet and get out of this town before I loose my temper and throw you out."
The man laughed harder and threw back his head, his neck snapping into an odd angle that should not have been possible without breaking it. Suddenly bringing his head forward with a loud crack, the man fixed Ed with a stare fit to kill. Raising one of his crippled hands he poised his fingers to snap, "Come and make me." He snapped his fingers.
Behind him, the bushes rustled and the smaller trees bent and toppled as the beast emerged from hiding. Standing much taller than a man, it snarled down its wolf muzzle at those who stood before its master. Flexing lion paws and spreading hawk-like wings, the beast awaited its orders like a faithful pet…if a pet it could safely be called. The order came quietly, with a vague gesture of ruined hands. "Sic them."
For a split second the world froze, falling to silence as Ed listened to the fearful pounding of his own heart, then the fury of the storm was upon them. A fight of claws and steel, pounce and dodge, life and death was under way.
The beast went instinctively for Ed, smelling flesh tender for the taking. Ed was no fool, expecting the move from the start, and blocked using his auto-mail and telling Al with a look to go get the guy controlling the beast. Being almost completely ignored and shielded from sight by the snow flurries the creature kicked up, it was easy for Alphonse to slip around the perimeter of the fight and sneak up on the unsuspecting madman. Yes, easy to sneak up on him, not easy to hold him.
Al could not touch the red water any more than Ed could, and found himself dodging the man's fist while searching for a soft patch of snow and a spare moment to sketch a transmutation circle. His chance finally came when the clap-flash of Ed's alchemy filled the air, drawing the madman's attention for a few seconds. In an instant Alphose inscribed his circle and erected a cage of ice around the man, keeping the walls millimeters from the man's body to allow no room for movement. With a little luck, it would keep the psychopath from employing his own alchemy. Freed from his fight for the time being, Al turned his attention to the fight raging nearby, the one between Edward and chimera.
Snow flew through the air making it difficult to see, but his brother's work was hard to miss. Choosing a tactic much akin to Al's own, Fullmetal had erected a wooden cage around the beast…a cage transmuted from the trees around them. The beast did not like that one bit, biting and clawing at the 'bars' with a ferocity born of madness and hatred. Yet despite its best efforts, it remained trapped within the twisted boughs, held captive by the very trees that once sheltered it before it had been perverted by the alchemy of man. In frustration, the monster roared its thunderous, unearthly cry.
The sound grated upon the ears, bringing a cry from both Al and his own captive, but Ed remained strangely silent. Disconcerted, Al tore his gaze from the beast, in search of his brother. He did not have to look long as his brother's voice came drifting to him. "Al…." The voice was strained, weak and almost inaudible but Al heard it and moved towards its source. He found his brother as the snow flurries began to settle.
Edward Elrich leaned against a tree at the edge of the clearing, his auto-mail arm hanging at his side, shattered and useless. His red jacket was torn in several places, but the black shirt beneath it all was much worse. Caught in the midst of an aerial flip, his torso had been raked by the chimera's claws. The cuts were not terribly deep, but they ran the length of his body, from his upper chest to his abdomen in four parallel lines that bled profusely. A white-gloved hand was pressed to the worst of the cuts and was quickly turning as red as Fullmetal's jacket. Al cringed on the inside as he saw the damage done to his brother. "Ed?"
Ed smiled for him, a trail of blood trickling from a split lip. "It was enhanced with the red water, Al.," he said. "It made it fast…. It was too fast for me to keep up with, until I caged it anyway. Did you get the guy who made it?" Al nodded and Fullmetal sighed. "Good. Let's leave them for the military then and get ourselves out of here." Ed moved to walk and nearly fell, missing the ground through Al's good graces alone.
"Bother!" Al cried as he caught him, sweeping him into his arms as though he were a child being carried to bed.
Ed cringed through a sudden wave of pain, his breath coming in short, shallow gasps. "Yeah, I think you're right on the mark, Al." Ed stole a glance at his now crimson glove and swallowed hard, feeling faint. Whether from shock or blood loss, he was not sure, but his head was most definitely swimming. "Hurry, Al." He whispered.
That was all the encouragement Al needed. He lumbered forward into a break-neck run, heading to the nearby village and its attending physician. His ni-san needed help, and he needed it now, but the village was at least thirty minutes away. With his ni-san loosing this much blood, he had twenty minutes, maybe twenty-five tops.
His brother was depending on him to help him and Al knew that time was running short. He ran like his life depended on it because, this time, it actually did.
They were three-fourths of the way to the village with the sun setting quickly in the west. Al hated traveling at night, now more than ever. With the fading of the light he all but lost one of his two remaining senses, his sight, and that was the most important thing to the world to him right now. As long as he could see he knew his brother was still alive, could see the winter-smoke from Ed's mouth as he breathed and watch the rise and fall of his chest. When darkness fell, he would loose that simple comfort.
Sure, he could hear Edward breathing, but as the breaths grew shallower, they became harder and harder to distinguish from even the quietest of sounds. And unable to feel anything he touched, Al would be unable to feel it if his brother stopped breathing. It was agony for Alphonse watching the light fade and knowing that, when darkness fell, it may well consume his brother's soul. He had to hurry.
His brother's voice came as a whisper that rang loud in Alphose' ears, "Al, are we there yet?"
"No, we are not there yet brother, but we will be soon." Al stole another glance at Ed, keeping one eye on the road ahead to avoid falling. To his horror, his brother was growing pale, his lips tinged a deathly blue. It was a combination of the loss of blood and the onset of hypothermia, Al knew. Studying alchemy made him almost as knowledgeable as the doctors in some areas, and tending to his brother made him more-so in others. There was not much time left, if any. Ed proved his point in the next moment.
"So tired, Al… S-so tired," Ed whispered, his eyes drifting closed. Al froze in a momentary panic before shaking his brother in an attempt to wake him.
"ED! No sleeping, Ed!" He yelled, shaking his brother's shoulders as hard as he dared. To his great relief Fullmetal stirred, his chest rising as an immense yawn escaped him, but no winter-smoke. Hypothermia had stolen one of Al's signs before the darkness did. Almost in complete panic, Alphose poured on more speed. "You have to stay awake, brother. If you sleep, you will die and I don't want to be left alone. Talk to me, Ed. Talk to me and let me know you are still there."
His brother's only response was a visible shudder and incoherent words that Al could not understand. Time was shorter than Alphose had thought. Of that he was certain.
In complete darkness and standing at the edge of the village, Al laid Edward down gently in the snow. It was too dark to see now, but Alphonse knew his brother's eyes were closed and he feared the worst. He called for help in a loud voice before kneeling beside his brother. Unable to see the rise and fall of his brother's chest and unable to check his pulse because of lack of touch, Al turned to the only sense he had left…his hearing.
Although he had no ears, per-say, he often found it helpful to place his 'head' near the source of whatever sound he wished to hear. So, holding his helmet on to keep from frightening the villagers who were sure to be coming, Al leaned in close to his brother's chest and listened. He knew he would never be able to tell if his brother was breathing, but if his heart still beat then there was hope….
Soft and oh-so slow, Ed's heartbeat reached his brother's 'ears' bringing relief in a flood of tears he could not cry. Locked in a moment of time, Al listened to the sound that meant life…to the thud that he knew once sounded in his own ears in days so far removed he could scarcely remember. Yet...something was wrong… Slowing…the sound was slowing…. In that moment Al came to a startling realization. His brother must have stopped breathing.
In horror, Al screamed once more for help and was gratified to hear an answering cry from somewhere in the village. Help was coming, but would it be here in time? From the sound of things, it wouldn't be…and no doctor or any amount of alchemy could bring back the dead. There was only one thing to do. He had to make his brother breathe…but how?
Thinking fast, Al placed his helmet on his brother's chest and quickly drew a transmutation circle in the nearby snow. Plying his craft with a flash of light, Al drew from the earth and leaves beneath the snow to fashion something similar to what would be called a "respirator" in later years. He did not know what made him think of that particular design, the fitted clay mask with a papyrus balloon attached, but it did not matter. Breathing was necessary to live, so his brother had to breathe. It was as simple as that.
Fitting the mask over Ed's face, Alphose pumped the bulb, forcing air into his brother's lungs. In and out, in and out in a steady cadence that simulated breathing. To his great relief it seemed to be working, at least his brother's heartbeat was steady now if no stronger. It was then that the village doctor arrived.
Quickly scooping his helmet up off of Ed's chest and throwing it back on his shoulders before returning to his pumping, Al made room for the doctor. Expert hands moved quickly about the wounded boy's frame, from head to toes before he turned a trained eye on the device Alphonse had crafted and was still using. Seeing the look, Al explained himself in a few quick sentences.
"He quit breathing just as we got here and I can't breathe for him, so I…"
Ed coughed, bringing a hand up weakly to push the mask away. Slightly startled, Al obliged by removing the mask and rejoiced in the sound of his brother gasping out his name. "Al…."
"I'm right here, brother, and so is the doctor. You're in good hands."
The doctor smiled at the two brothers and shook his head. "You were in good hands long before I got here, alchemist. Your brother is a medical genius." Leaving Ed with a very confused look on his face the doctor motioned for Alphonse to pick his brother up and follow him, picking up and pocketing Alphonse' mask as he did so.
Back at his clinic, he tended to Edward's wounds and had him up and around in a week or so (he was complaining after a single day and the doctor tended to drug his tea to make him sleep, but that's another story). The doctor commended Al for his quick thinking, never once asking why he could not have simply breathed for Ed himself instead of creating such an clever device, perhaps assuming the boy in the armor had been too winded from the long run to do so. The doctor certainly would have been.
Ed was released from the doctor's care sporting four new scars for Winry to berate him over, although no one ever told her how he got them or how close he had come to death. Mustang gave him a severe tongue lashing before scooping him into a fatherly embrace and messing his hair. The madman (suffering severe hypothermia and frostbite) and his chimera were retrieved and locked away for good, and the doctor… The doctor went on to patent the "respirator" and, subsequently, become the richest man in the region opening two hospitals and several charity clinics.
Alphonse knew he had stolen the idea from his make-shift mask design, but it did not matter to him. Breathing was a necessary to live and if his mask helped people to do it he did not care whose name was attached to it, especially when the man who ended up with it was so generous with his earnings. He was just glad his ni-san was all right.
Best of all, Al had proved to himself that a sense of touch was not as important as he had thought it was. He had still been able to discern what was happening, even if it had been difficult, and it was the end result that was important.
Perhaps one day he would get his body back and be able to feel things again but, if he didn't, he was all right with it. Life would go one with every breath those around him took. That was all that really mattered.
Moonlessnight: There it is. Yeah, I spun this off into my own little world a bit…but I think I managed to stay mainly IC. I am actually considering re-writing this one-shot at a later date, making it into the full fledged story I intended it to be at first. Not sure about that though... I'll just sit back for now and watch people's reactions. If enough of you like the idea, I'll see what I can do.
To explain the title a bit: necessity is the mother of invention and breathing a most definitely necessary. So, Al created something to cope with the situation at hand. Plausible? Maybe. Possible? Who knows and, quite frankly, who cares. This was fun to write for some strange reason…although I myself never expected Al to take on such a life of his own. Go figure….
Let me know what you thought by leaving a review. I'm always glad to hear from you guys. Until next post! Ja ne!