Through a Glass Darkly
Sometimes people forget that, in his own way, Alphonse Elric is a genius too.
Izumi has never questioned this fact- she loves both boys equally and always has, cherishing those differences and similarities between them. Edward had always been sharper- he took mental shortcuts and, occasionally, complete mental bypasses, flying through lessons and life at a dizzying, madcap pace simply because his brain was capable of making leaps and bounds of deduction that could almost be called unnatural
Alphonse's genius was a gentler sort of beast- quiet and slow, content to move at it's own, steady pace. It was infinitely more flexible than Edward's, because Al did not think in straight lines. Ed possesed the double-edged ability to jump directly from point A to point Z without bothering to read the lines in between. Al trailed dilligently behind his brother, leafing through the discarded letters and studying the clues Edward had deemed irrelevant.
Alphonse was a dreamer while Edward was a doer. Al was existential, and Ed was bitterly scientific.
Alphonse was- is no less intelligent, no less brilliant than his brother. However, genius is two parts logic, one part pure willpower. Al , despite his mirrored ambitions, had lacked the consuming determination that burnt his brother not like a candle, but rather like a fire cracker lit at both ends. Izumi had always found Alphonse easier to teach. Even now, without his memories and experience, it isn't quite like teaching him all over again. Al's amnesia is not complete- he understands things too quickly and knows things no ten year old boy shoud know about alchemy. Alphonse Elric in his restored body is by far the most apt and eerily brilliant student an alchemist could hope for. For the second time in her life, Izumi teaches him everything she knows about the inner workings of life and death.
However, there is still one thing she can never teach him.
"My brother used to do it like this, didn't he?" and cautiously, Al claps his hands together, looking at her with wide, hazel eyes, "How?"
Izumi folds her arms across her chest and replies firmly, "It doesn't matter. You can't."
And she is glad for it.
Roy Mustang isn't completely sure how he is supposed to react when Alphonse Elric stumbles through his door one day, all blushing awkwardness, wringing hands and ill-kempt, overgrown hair. He studies the boy quietly as he rambles- invites him in, takes his coat and sits him down. Finally, after much muttered apologies and throat clearing, Alphonse regains his composure and states his purpose.
"Mr. Mustang, please- I, uh, want you to tell me everything you know about my brother."
Roy pauses for a single, horrible moment and presses his remaining eye closed against the sight before him. Edward Elric, sixteen years old- a deserter and missing for nearly a year; presumed dead. A state alchemist and civilian consultant for the military at the age of twelve assigned the title 'Fullmetal' in reference to his automail limbs. Served for nearly four years, never received any promotions despite his numerous, infamous accomplishments. These are the cold, hard military facts and at times Roy wishes that they were the only details about Edward Elric's life he had been privy too.
They will say that he was irresponsible- that Fullmetal was his sole responsibility and no one else's, but they would never know the half of it.
Finally, hissing a sigh through his teeth, Roy faces Alphonse and wonders: "I am curious, Alphonse, why you would come to me of all people. I was only his commanding officer."
Al shrugs in his loose shirt and pulls at his cuffs, "Well, sir. I may not remember anything about the military, however it seems that a good deal of people in the military remember me and so far I've been led to believe that out of everyone brother and I knew after leaving Risembool, you were one of our closest confidants." he folds his hands nervously in his lap, "Am I wrong?"
Roy runs a hand through his dark hair and forces his mouth into a pathetic attempt at a reassuring smile, "No. No, I suppose you are right." and the boy's eyes light up sensationally.
"Then you did know my brother! I-I mean, you know him. Personally?"
Roy nods and finally manages to swallow the heavy knot of grief and regret lodged in his throat. When he speaks again, his voice is clear, "Your brother was a secretive induvidual, Alphonse, but I knew him as well as one could hope to considering the situation." Roy moves smoothly towards the kitchen, still speaking, "Though I must admit that I am still puzzled as to how you arrived at that conclusion- Edward and I did not get along particularily well and, last time I checked, the tales of his spectacular insubordination had become somewhat ledgendary within certan echeons of the military."
"Oh," Roy can hear the mild tinge of disappointment in his voice, "I hadn't heard that."
There is a pause before Roy remembers that he has been stripped of his rank and Edward is, as far as the military is concerned, dead. He marvels at how quickly stories giggled over during a lunch break could turn bitterly taboo, "Well-" he coughs and gestures weakly, "Would you like some tea, Alphonse?"
Alphonse opens his mouth, closes it again and then nods resolutely. The boy sits obidiently on the couch, eyes scanning the disorgainized bookshelves as Roy leans against his kitchen counter and waits for the kettle to whistle. A few minutes later he is sitting across from the younger Elric brother holding two, steaming cups. Al chirps a cheerful, "Thank you!" and grabs for the tea.
"First of all," and Roy smirks, wisking the cup away before Al can take it, "Your brother never drank tea. He always asked for coffee."
Al evaluates this statement with a slow, even nod and takes the tea anyways.
"I just want to be close to him, Winry." she sighs at his justification and continues brushing the knots out of his hair anyways.
"I miss him too, Al, but this just isn't-"
" 'Healthy'?" Al chuckles and rolls his shoulders back, glancing at her out of the corner of his vision, "I didn't expect anyone to understand, you know. It's not like I want to be him... I just-"
She stops, dropping her hands from his hair and staring expectantly, "You just what?"
Al's vision wavers, blurs, turns from her and he smiles calmly, "I want to know who he was and why he did all those fantastic things people say he did."
Winry picks up the brush again, her mouth turning upwards wryly, "There's an easy answer to that question, Al- he did it all for you."
"No," Al says firmly, "No- that's not it. That's not all of it at least. I mean- well, I guess I don't know what I mean. But I don't care if no one understands why I'm doing it. I need to do it, that's all. And... I think maybe he would have understood."
Winry lets his hair fall lose and begins threading it through her fingers, "Hmph, of course he would have. Ed was just as stupid as you, if not more so," she furrowed her brow slightly, "Mmm, your hair isn't long enough to braid properally yet."
Al shrugs, "It doesn't matter. I'll jus tie it back until it is."
The next time Roy sees Alphonse, the boy's hair is too long, his body language is too relaxed and his voice is bolder than Roy ever remembers it being. Al strolls into his apartment with too much ease and falls into the sofa, still wearing his boots.
When he grins- not a smile, but the kind of smirk that reveals an ulterior motive- Roy very nearly shivers.
"I need your help again, Colonel."
Roy blinks. 'Colonel'? Where did Al ever get the idea to start calling him Colonel?
Al sifts around in his jacket pockets and pulls out a pair of gloves- soft, white material; wristlength, "I need to sew a functioning array into these gloves. Heard you might be the best person for the job."
When Alphonse turns down his tea and requests coffee instead, Roy nearly considers saying no.
Al sits by her bedside quietly, looking at the floor, at the ceiling, out the window, at everything but her. Izumi knows that neither he nor Ed had ever been very adept at accepting her sickness. It was something both boys had always been actively aware of, yet chose to ignore unlesss they were directly confronted with it.
It's sweet, she supposes, the reverence they show for her, but at the same time it frustrates her. No one is perfect and no one is invincible- Edward learned this lesson well enough, but Izumi is afraid that Alphonse has forgotten it.
"You look like your brother," she comments hoarsely.
Al's eyes snap to meet hers and he smiles shyly, obviously taking it as a compliment. She doesn't mean it that way, but doesn't bother to correct him either.
"I've been studying, sensei." he says eagerly, pulling gloves from his pocket and effortlessly sliding them onto his hands, "I haven't quite figured out what it was that brother did, but I found a solution."
The clap echos in the empty room, down the halls and in Izumi's ears. She closes her eyes against the light of alchemical transmutation.
Like most things the Elric brothers have accomplished in their life, Izumi isn't sure whether to classify this under divine brilliance, or divine stupidity.
Al has his memories back by the time he sees Ed again. It's a sad irony that the Edward Elric who returns worn and wise from the other side of the gate is still not the brother he remembers.
In Al's memories, Ed was a violet, passionate flash of light and color. Harsh and unforgiving in one instance and painfully kind in the next. He was a genius obsessed with the scientific order of things, but he was also a creature of emotional irrationality and creative impractability. He was young, yet he was old but most of all he was more alive than anyone else and Al loved him all the more.
This new Edward speaks with heavy wisdom and acts with methodical care. He is patient and careful and very, very certain about his every word and action. His eyes brim with tears when he sees Al and he fights the choke working it's way into his voice. He steps forwards, closing the distance between them far too slowly, and touches Al's hair gently before pulling him into a desperate embrace.
"I'm sorry, Al." Ed holds his brother tighter than he's ever held anybody or anything in his entire life, "It must have been cold in my shadow."
Al wants to correct him: No, I was cold without it.