Reference: First FMA Anime. A few things and people have been pulled from the manga here and there.
Type: Angst, Divergence (splits off from episode 32), Drama, Romance, Mystery, Political, Yaoi, Het, etc.
Pairings: Roy/Ed, Al/Winry, (other minor pairings)
Warnings: Language, Sex, Violence, etc.
Summary: After getting Al's body back, Ed finds that life after reaching his goal wasn't what he expected. As the country faces the threat of civil war, will Ed be able to handle life without Alphonse constantly by his side, or will he simply substitute one companion for another?
A/N – PLEASE READ THIS BEFORE BEGINNING THE STORY OR YOU MAY BE CONFUSED AS TO WHAT IS GOING ON. - This story takes place after Al gets his body back. It does not, however, follow the storyline in the later part of the series. This story splits off from the series in episode 32 after Al and Ed fight with wrath on the island. Things are different in this story after that point.
Ed and Al do visit Dante but the visit is uneventful and so is the rest of their visit with Izumi. They look for Scar (you'll remember that they were originally going to go find Scar before they were found by Izumi) but are unable to locate him, so the search for the stone continued.
By the time Ed an Al reach the ages of seventeen and sixteen, Scar is still killing State Alchemists, all the homunculi are still at large (Pride and Sloth are still unknown by anyone other than the other homunculi) and Ed and Al have found a way, independent of the stone, to get Al's body back. The two teenagers were found, unconscious and taken to Central City's military hospital. That is where this story begins.
Progress downward, as in station, virtue, and the like, from a higher to a lower state, from the more, to the less important,
from the better…
to the worse…
A beeping sound and hushed murmurs brought him slowly into awareness. He was lying down, in a bed it seemed. Covers were drawn up under his arms and over his chest. The air in the room was cool, but not so much as to be unpleasant. He wanted to sink back into the dark oblivion from which his mind had just emerged, but the beeping and the murmuring, which he couldn't quite make out, kept him from doing so.
With an effort he opened his eyes, and blinked a couple of times. It wasn't bright; in fact it seemed the only light in the room came from a small source behind him… a lamp perhaps? No, he blinked because the world was blurry in his vision and blinking was the only thing he could think of to help the situation. As his eyes began to clear, he started to make out the lines and little dots that marred the off white ceiling.
A touch on his arm made him aware that the murmuring had disappeared and only the beeping remained. Slowly, he slid his gaze to his left and military blue filled his view. His eyes traveled up the well made uniform and settled on dark, worried eyes.
"How are you feeling, Edward(1)?" the man beside him asked in a whisper.
Edward? he thought vaguely.
It took him a moment to associate the name with himself, but it seemed right, so his mind moved on to the question. How did he feel? After a moment of contemplation he realized he felt tired. Oh, he felt sore too, but foremost he felt tired. He thought perhaps he should open his mouth to say so, but nothing happened. The truth was that he was having a hard enough time keeping his eyes open.
The man's mouth turned down into a slight frown, lips pressing slightly, and his eyebrows crinkled a bit, slightly moving a few strands of the black hair that rested lightly against his forehead. Edward blinked, once… twice… as his vision started to get blurry once again, making it difficult to continue keeping the man in focus. The touch on his arm had moved into a soft rubbing motion. It was comforting… the touch of another. He let his eyes close completely.
"What am I thinking… what the hell am I thinking..."
The soft words uttered by the man traveled with him as he began his slow descent back into darkness.
Al stuffed another bite of the hospital cafeteria's unidentifiable breaded meat patty in his mouth, earning him a look of disgust from his table companion. According to Winry, eating metal shavings tasted better than what the hospital cafeteria served. Al figured she must be over exaggerating. He didn't really think she would eat metal shavings. He stopped chewing for a moment and gazed at her.
At least… he didn't think…
"What?" Winry asked curiously, seeing the look on his face.
Al shook his head and began chewing again. He was being stupid, he thought with a grin. That was just his old friend exaggerating. He nodded to himself and turned his attention back to his food.
It really was great to eat again. Even the mystery meat on his plate couldn't lessen the wonders of it all. The complex tastes on his tongue; sweet, sour, bitter, salty, they all came to him in a rush that still overwhelmed him at times. The first meal he had eaten since getting his body back had been ecstasy. He had started crying and Winry had asked about it, but what could he say? That the soup resembling pond water was so tasty that he couldn't contain his emotions?
Of course that wasn't the whole truth.
It was the wonders of being able to use the senses he had been denied over the past six years that had brought the tears. Winry would have understood, Al was sure of it, but he couldn't put it into words. Nothing seemed right.
He fidgeted in his seat, feeling the hard chair beneath him, and a delighted smile came to his lips. Such simple things, but such wonderful things; the chair, the fork in his hand, the clothing on his body, the soft socks and the hard shoes that encased his feet, the cool air of the hospital on his exposed skin…
Then there was the smell of the food cooking in the kitchen, the smell of the people sitting in the cafeteria. Some of the people smelled of sweat or perfume. There was also the smell of the hospital, the smell of the sick and the smell of sanitizer, the smell of his meal and of Winry's tea. Or even his own smell; the smell of lye soap and the powder that Alicia Hughes had spilled on him that morning.
It was all so wonderful, but frightening at the same time. Al was grateful that he had been able to see and hear when his soul had been attached to the armor. Not only because he had use of those abilities during that time, but also because regaining three senses at once was overwhelming, but all five at once… he couldn't even imagine it…
He looked up at Winry for a moment, watching her as she sipped at her tea. She had been the first person he saw when he woke up… when he realized his older brother had succeeded in getting his body back.
He remembered waking, feeling the soreness that seemed to overpower him. It was all so strange… so foreign… all of it. The feel of the air, the smell of the hospital, the bad 'morning' taste in his mouth, the hospital clothes, the bed beneath him, the sheets and blanket above, the feel of the IV needle piercing his arm, the sound of the life support machine beeping behind him… He remembered turning his head and seeing Winry's back facing him as she sat near Ed's bed.
Al wondered, as he speared one of the broccoli pieces, if Winry had ever sat near his bed during the weeks he had been unconscious.
Maybe… he thought hopefully, then frowned.
But since the time he had woken, Winry spent an increasing amount with him. He smiled at that thought, but almost immediately shook a finger at himself mentally. He did feel bad for Ed that Winry spent less time near his bed now… Not that his brother was aware of the change. He was asleep after all, and Al was awake… he was sure Ed wouldn't want him to be lonely… Plus they had both been in the same room, after all. If Ed had woken, Winry would have known immediately.
Winry would have known immediately…
Al frowned at the almost empty plate. That had been when he was staying at the hospital. He had been discharged almost a week ago now. Even so, he still spent most of his time at the hospital during his waking hours. Mrs. Hughes had been kind enough to let Al and Winry stay at her house when they weren't at the hospital. Such a nice woman… Mrs. Hughes… and Al had bonded almost immediately with Alicia; the girl hadn't recognized Al, having never seen him not as armor.
He began pushing the food around with his fork.
Ed still slept though...
The doctors were unsure when or if his older brother would wake. Also, Ed still wasn't whole. The automail limbs still remained.
It didn't seem fair…
A hand on his arm made him look up. Winry smiled a small smile and said, "He'll be okay. Don't worry, Al. He will."
He nodded. How did she do that? How did she seem to know what he was thinking sometimes? He guessed it was some sort of woman thing. Mrs. Hughes seemed to be able to do that too… and his mother… Al shook his head. He didn't want his thoughts to go in that direction right now.
"Are you sure you don't want anything?" Al asked.
Winry shook her head making her blonde hair swish against her neck. "No way! I'll wait for Mrs. Hughes's cooking." She grinned. "But you should go ahead and eat more here, that way there will be enough dinner for the rest of us tonight!"
They both laughed at that.
The first time Al had looked in a mirror, he had been shocked to see the face looking back at him. His body had matured from the ten year old body he had lost into a sixteen year old one. In a way, he was grateful. After all, his mind had matured in that suit of armor, it would be a bit inconvenient to be stuck in such a young body.
On the other hand, he had missed some of the things associated with growing into a man. Not that it was that big of a deal, in fact it seemed a stupid thing to be sad about, but he wouldn't have the complete puberty experience. Oh it's not like he missed everything, but there would be no voice fluctuations for him. His voice had already deepened. Also, Al had grown in height; taller than Lieutenant Hawkeye; shorter than Colonel Mustang and it seemed he might not be done growing either. It had been bound to happen. He had already been surpassing Ed in height before the fateful transmutation six years ago…
His older brother was not going to be pleased about that.
Being in a sixteen-year-old body did have its drawbacks though. One of which was that he always seemed to be hungry. Not that he minded. He had missed eating. Once, Winry had pronounced the unfairness of it all that Al could eat so much and not gain any weight.
Al was just about to make a reply to Winry's teasing jab about his appetite when Lieutenant Hawkeye approached their table at a brisk pace. Winry looked as if she were about to say something to the lieutenant when she held up her hand.
"The colonel sent me to collect you." Al sat up straight, and his heart began to pound in his chest as fear and hope filled him. Her face softened slightly and she said, "Your brother has awakened."
Winry folded her arms beneath her breasts and glared at the dark-haired man before her. It was so unfair! Al was near Ed almost every hour of every day and the only one who got to be there when he woke up was one of her least favorite people. Well, and Lieutenant Hawkeye... At least Colonel Mustang had the decency to send her to fetch them as soon as they had realized Ed had woken.
"Did he say anything?" Al asked anxiously.
The colonel shook his head with a look of regret. "I'm sorry, Alphonse. He just looked at me then fell back asleep."
Al's eager face fell in disappointment. "Oh…"
"Don't worry. I've already spoken with one of the doctors and she said now that Fullmetal has woken once, he'll wake again. He's recovering. Take comfort in that."
Al nodded and looked at his brother with a sad, forlorn expression. Winry felt compassion well up within her. The taller of the two Elrics looked exhausted. He would spend even his sleeping hours with Ed if the hospital would allow him to stay overnight. Night time visits were permissible, but not overnight stays.
The sound of a throat clearing caught her attention and she turned to see the colonel place his hat on his head. "Well, I have other business to attend to," he said briskly
Al nodded absently. It didn't really matter to him if anyone from the military visited Ed or not. In fact, Winry had a suspicion that Al would have preferred it if military personnel didn't visit at all. He often voiced the hope that Ed would turn in his resignation after he recovered. Never 'if' he recovered. No, not with Al. It was always, 'When Ed recovered'.
Colonel Mustang briefly rested a hand on Al's shoulder as he walked past the taller of the two Elrics, then made his way to the door.
Lieutenant Hawkeye said nothing, only followed the man out the door.
"...don't know if I'm going to play against her anymore. I think she cheats. I think so anyway. I'm not sure… Now if I was playing against you I'd know for sure that I was being cheated... but I'll still play against you, even if you can't play fair... when you wake up..."
Al fell silent as he stared at his brother, still lying unconscious on the hospital bed. It had been four days since the colonel said that Ed had woken, and for four long days Al had sat by Ed's bed, hoping against hope that his brother would wake again.
He sighed, leaned forward in his chair, put his arms on the bed beside Ed, and rested his head on his arms. Soon it would be time to go back to the Hughes's house for the night. Winry had left the hospital early to fix a few things for Mrs. Hughes in return for her generosity, but she would come back soon to get him for dinner.
Al felt a slight movement beside him and for a moment his breath caught. Perhaps he had just thought he had felt movement... Hesitantly, Al lifted his head and felt a wave of relief and excitement wash over him as his eyes fixed onto Ed's golden ones. For a few moments the two just stared at each other. Al at a loss for what to say, Ed seemingly confused...
He doesn't know who I am! Al realized in an instant.
"Brother(2)... It's me... Alphonse..."
Ed just stared dumbly at him for a moment. Then his eyes widened, and began to search Al's face in wonder and relief. "Al...?" he croaked.
Al grinned and nodded. "My body must have aged in The Gate, brother. That's why I look older," he explained, watching as his brother's lips curved up into a smile.
"It worked..." Ed whispered hoarsely. Al could see tears form in his brother's eyes.
Ed reached up with his right arm to touch Al's face and the smile vanished as his eyes rested on the cool metal surface of the automail; the dim light from the small lamp behind the bed causing it to reflect a dull shine.
Al watched the changes in his brother's face. He felt a pressure in his chest and felt the urge to cry, but didn't. "I don't know why you didn't get your arm and leg back brother..." his voice trailed off. The words didn't sound right. They sounded lame and inadequate. He just didn't know what to say.
Still looking at his upraised arm Ed said, "Al…" Suddenly, a fit of coughing struck and he broke off what he was about to say.
"Let me get you some water, brother. You're just not used to talking." Al got up to fetch a cup of water and said over his shoulder, "You've been asleep for weeks."
He left the room and asked one of the orderlies, an older lady with a kind disposition, for a cup of water. She told Al to stay where he was and she would be back in a moment.
Al sighed and looked at the door. He didn't know what to say... Why hadn't his brother gotten his limbs back? He felt guilty that he should be whole while Ed wasn't, but Al didn't know how to help. Truthfully, Al couldn't remember how he had gotten his body back.
He remembered his brother's solemness, a solemness that had lasted for weeks. Ed hadn't been unpleasant to be around during that time, but he had seemed... withdrawn... depressed... and then there was the night that Ed had come to him and said that he thought he knew how he could get Al his body back.
He had seemed... resigned...
Ed hadn't explained to Al what he was going to do; he had said that he'd tell him later. He remembered Ed taking him to an abandoned building, but after that... the memories disappear... He supposed he could ask Ed about it, but now wasn't the right time, and besides... Al had a heavy feeling in his heart that he wasn't really sure he wanted to know...
The orderly returned with the water and Al politely thanked her. As he reentered the room, Al noticed that Ed was still laying where he had left him, eyes staring at the ceiling, the automail arm resting on the mattress, fist clenched. Al looked down at his brother and felt a pang in his heart when he saw wet streaks from Ed's eyes down his cheeks.
"Brother..." was all Al could say as he helped lift Ed's head to a position where he could drink some of the water.
"Al..." Ed began again when his head rested on the pillow again. "It's not fair... I'm so happy you have your body back... You don't know how much but... I..."
"I know, brother," Al replied. He felt the same way. It just wasn't fair that he had his body back and Ed didn't. He frowned as another tear slid down Ed's cheek.
"It's just not fair..." Ed repeated softly.
Al laid a hand on Ed's leg, trying to convey how much he cared for his brother, trying to comfort him. He could feel his brother shaking beneath his touch and opened his mouth to say something when a sob burst from Ed.
"Dammit Al!" Ed exclaimed suddenly, slamming his flesh and blood fist into the mattress to punctuate his words. "It's not fair! It's just not fair! You've got to be at least five fucking inches taller than me now! It's just not fair!"
1 – In the English version, Mustang does call Ed by his name every once in a while. I don't think this is true of the Japanese version thought. However, in this respect I'm going to follow the English version.
2 – You'll notice I don't have Al calling Ed "Nii-San", but "Brother". If I were writing this in Japanese I would use the term (which in reality should be translated into "older brother", 'otouto' is 'younger brother' but older siblings in Japan generally just use the younger sibling's name, etc. I'm not going to go into the dynamics of it all…) but I'm not. Ed and Al are not Japanese and therefore will not start spouting out Japanese words such as nii-san, baka, etc., in this story.