Author's Note: Ed contemplates the loss of a friend. A traveler finds his way home. How vague can you get? Well I always hate summaries with spoilers in them.
Honestly, I only ever half-intended to post this… but since I haven't written any fanfiction in a while (and my brain is too wrapped up in other things to start again now), I figure why not throw up something already done?
Disclaimer: I have a little plush Ed key-chain, a t-shirt and sweatshirt with exactly the same design on it, and a broken pocket watch. Thus begins and ends what I own of Fullmetal Alchemist.
Lost and Found
The young traveler kicked a rock and watched it draw up dust from the road as it skittered a few meters away. He kicked it again as soon as his strides permitted. This had been going on for several minutes already, but it was almost enough to keep his mind off the pounding sunlight as he walked.
God knew there wasn't much to look at. True the sun was shining (alarmingly bright), the sky was fiercely blue, and the greenest grass he'd ever laid eyes on seemed to stretch endlessly on tree-dotted hills. An untouched corner of the world, a pocket of nature peopled by those who respected her still. The traveler; however, was something of a city boy, with interests a bit more involved than appreciating birdsong or a well-used dirt road winding through a farm community.
A bead of sweat dripped from his forehead and he reached up to swipe it away irritably. His hand lingered near his face then in a way that appeared habitual. He screwed up his eyes as if preparing to cough… but sneezed instead. His lips quirked into a smile: his first that day.
Dragging the coat along was his other hand's preoccupation. Just carrying it was making him feel hotter than he already was, but he was loath to let it go. Briefly he recalled those moments of absolute delirium, when that strange splash of red had seemed so real, so solid; he'd made a grab for it without thinking twice. These thoughts he also dispelled quickly, attempting to focus more on his current task (which unfortunately consisted mostly of walking and rock-kicking). The idea of ditching the coat did not occur to him again.
First there was nothing. Then the house was in the distance, just as the old farmer had said it would be. He paused, bending his knees a few times to keep his legs from cramping, and squinted at the building. It was yellow, and extremely quaint. It reminded him of the place he was born, and briefly he wallowed in memories that seemed so old to him they belied his age.
At that moment his stomach complained loudly and he sighed. Food, he decided, would be the first order of business. Then perhaps a bath, because if it had been a day since he'd had anything to eat, it had been three times that since he'd had a chance to get himself cleaned up.
Then sleep, he mused, picking up the journey again. He was on the home stretch now.
Home stretch. Hardly.
The door did not open the first time he knocked, and the disappointment (or perhaps lack of food and sleep) nearly rocked him off his feet. Wasn't anyone home? Or perhaps they didn't live here anymore. Perhaps no one did. In a village like this with each residence so far from any other, it wouldn't be odd for that farmer to have accidentally given him dated information.
If that's true, he mused, I could just let myself die out here. He did not really mean this, of course. Giving up just like that? Ed would never let him live it down. He quirked a smile. I'm thinking in oxymorons; if I died I wouldn't give a damn about what Ed thinks.
Somehow, he still rather thought that he would.
And so it was that when the door opened, revealing a pretty young woman about his own age, the traveler was smiling and looking dazed. It was as if he was remembering an old joke, how funny it had been at the time, but wasn't quite able to recall the punch line.
The woman, on the other hand, appeared shocked. This was not because a dirty, slightly unsteady stranger had shown up on her doorstep out of the blue. Something like the opposite, as a matter of fact…
"Alphonse?" she gasped, and the stranger met her eyes for the first time.
"Alphonse," Ed groaned, giving the boy walking beside him a light smack on the back of the head. His brother started, and looked at Ed irritably.
"What was that for?" he complained, rubbing his head more than was necessary for such a minor injury. He was already uncomfortable enough in the suit he'd borrowed for the funeral. The shoes were too small.
Ed rolled his eyes. "You," he said. "I've called your name three times already, but you just go along lost in your own thoughts, kicking that stupid rock along…" His voice softened. "Are you okay with all of this?"
At first Al did not reply. His hand remained near the back of his head as he ran nervous fingers through his short hair. His head still felt too light after two years of wearing a pony tail.
"People were giving me strange looks…" he said quietly.
"Surely you're used to that sort of thing," Ed supposed, his expression wry. Al allowed his melancholy to lift enough for a small smile.
"I guess," he said. He paused, trying his best to formulate his words the way he wanted. For once Ed shut up and let him think his response through properly, which he greatly appreciated.
"I don't know," he began, "it was different before. People stared at me because I was so wildly unfamiliar. You know what it was like, brother, you tended to look pretty out-of-place yourself." Ed shrugged, neither here nor there. "But now they were looking for just the opposite reason. Because I was familiar. Back there was worst of all—especially burying that empty coffin—but sometimes people around town… I've seen them try to catch my eye, or stop, look as if they're about to say something… then they'll see something that makes them realize I'm not him… my height, my eyes, or something not necessarily visible, just something that makes us different… and then they look sad… Brother, I don't think anyone back there wanted to look at me."
They had stopped walking now. Instinctively they both glanced back, but the cemetery was out of sight by then.
"I never told you," Ed began, not quite sure why now seemed like the right time to share this story, "But there was another Edward here too, once."
Alphonse looked stricken. "He's dead, isn't he?"
Ed nodded and swallowed hard. "The first time I came through the gate, my body didn't make it across. Dad explained it to me, I don't quite remember it; we were distracted by other things, but my soul was attracted to the next best thing which was this other Edward. While I was inside him… well, whose to say he wouldn't have died anyway, but it was my fault he was killed. That was in London."
"That's in England, right?" Al asked in an obvious attempt to distract himself.
"Right," Ed smiled. He threw his left arm around his brother's shoulders and squeezed gently, guiding them both along the path. It still seemed amazing to be able to feel his brother again, the warmth permeating the scratchy material of his suit, the build of his just-broadening shoulders. Alphonse's mind may have been that of a seventeen-year-old, but his body was thirteen and just starting to mature. Just starting to look like him…
"Why didn't Noah come with us anyway?" he asked suddenly.
Ed shrugged, "She wanted to be with her friends for a while longer." Purposely keeping his voice neutral, he added, "Who knows? Maybe she'll leave with them."
"Leave?" Al repeated, momentarily confused. "Oh yeah, you told me about them. The Roma. They wander all the time? Like us?"
"Yeah, like us."
Al averted his eyes and asked mildly, "Will you be sad if she goes?"
"Well of course--," Ed began before cutting himself off abruptly. "Aaaal," he groaned, "It's not like that! She and I, I mean, not that there is a she and I, I mean I'm not—she's not—"
The traveler was afraid to say her name, even to ask and be sure. One of the many things they pronounced so differently here: 'W'. Like Brits or Americans.
But he did not have to ask. He knew it was her as sure as he knew delta v v(e) ln m(0)/m(f). Ed had told so many stories about her; her frustration with his frequent disappearances, her temper, and occasionally (only if he was very tired or mildly drunk) her eyes.
They were blue. Really, really blue.
And there was something else that he did not quite want to admit to himself. In some way he recognized her, or some latent part of him did. Possibly this feeling could be attributed as delusion thanks to his current condition. For some reason he could not quite explain, he hoped that wasn't it.
He could tell she was about to say something, but she seemed unable to get the words out. He imagined they would be something along the lines of "What the hell do you want?" He really looked too atrocious to be calling on anyone, let alone a girl. Winry's not like that, he mused, not of his own volition. He suppressed a shudder. How strange this was.
He wanted to speak first to spare the confusion of trying to decipher her strange words and accent. So quickly he cleared his throat, focused, and said as carefully as he could:
"I don't want to replace him, Brother."
The entry hall had become a sea of vests, coats, and shoes the moment Ed and Al had gotten back to the apartment. Presently Al sat at the table in the small kitchen, his bare feet propped on the opposite chair, while Ed set about making tea for the two of them. He was having trouble with the kettle—Alphons had always made the tea—but pointing this out would not do either of them any good, so he did his best to look like he knew what he was doing.
He also neglected to mention how seeing his brother sitting at the table with this feet like that—a position Alphons had been known to take after a long day of work—was giving him the creeps.
He and Alphons had roomed together for over a year. It was the closest he'd let himself become to anyone on this side of the gate, his first and only friend before Noah came along. Before their lives careened so drastically apart.
"I'm sorry, Al, but I don't think there's anything you can do about that."
"Huh?" Al asked, startled. He knew he was sulking, but he'd expected something a bit more comforting from his brother.
"I've been thinking about this a lot," Ed murmured. He leaned back against the counter and crossed his arms over his chest. The kettle was finally filled and sitting atop the stove.
"It seems to me that there can't be, you know, two of a person on one side of the gate. When I came through the first time, and I became that other Ed, his mind and soul were still there too. And sometimes they would emerge over mine, and I couldn't control my—his body anymore… it was just weird. I've been thinking maybe he even had to die. It was the only way I could return to the other side of the gate, and make things balanced again…"
"Balanced, like an equation?" Al asked wryly, "It seems too simple." He paled suddenly, stammering "But I brought you back that time, and that would mean that I killed—"
"That's when I met Dad again," Ed continued. "He was posing as that other Ed's father, so I set out to find him again when I returned. He'd moved here in Munich by that time. It made sense to stay together for a while. No one would question it. So, you see, I did sort of become that other Ed."
"Alphons was completely unrelated, though," Al said sadly, "I've no right to—"
"I'm not saying you have to become him," Ed said, raising his eyebrows towards his brother's newly cropped hair. "I'm just saying that if you've replaced him, there's nothing you can do about it."
"I'm tired of all the explanations we've had to give out, though," Al said, but at this point it seemed he was merely grasping at strings for something to complain about. He felt out of his element being the immature one of the two of them. When did his brother get to be so grown up? "I mean, Alphons dies—"
"He was ill," Ed cut in exasperatedly.
"But there's no body—"
"Is that what's really bothering you? It's like I told you, I think that when we destroyed the gate since you were on this side it had to grab at its last chance to make everything balanced again. I haven't checked or anything, but I've always suspected that as soon as my whole self made it to this side the gate took that other Ed's body. So it took Alphons, and it took Eckhart and her aircraft and the bodies of her men, and everything that caused all the trouble in the first place."
"We caused trouble in the first place," Al pointed out. "We're still here."
"I'm no expert…" Ed said, smiling now, "But hell, if we're not then who is? I think the gate's had enough of us."
"That's supposed to be equivalent exchange?"
Ed offered him an almost-smile. "Something like that."
With a sudden frown, Al pointed out, "Uh… Brother? I think you forgot to turn the flame on."
Startled, Ed turned to the stove and sheepishly noted that the kettle sat quietly, still quite cold.
"Damn," he said feelingly.
"It's okay," Al chided, "I'm only starving."
"Hello, my name is Alphons Heiderich. Do you have anything to eat?"
He cringed at the sound of his own voice. He'd tried too hard to imitate the accent of the people he'd spoken to so far, it had come out all wrong! Well, he was lucky enough to know what little English he did. He hoped very much that Winry had understood him all right, and even more so that she would not turn him away. Perhaps once she realized that he wasn't this 'Alphonse' he supposedly looked like…
He supposed then he would have to search for the military man. General Mustang, another one of those "State Alchemists" featured prominently in Ed's wild tales. But where would he go to get information on a General? How long could he last, journeying blindly through a strange world? Risembool was the only town Ed had called by name, twice, both times apparently by accident. He knew nothing about the rest of the world, really, and he could end up lost forever…
Besides, some one as important as this Mustang guy probably wouldn't care a mark about some one like Alphons. Could he survive on his own in a different world?
Ed did, he reminded himself.
But even as he mused, Winry's gaze dropped to the red coat, forgotten in Alphons's hand. She smiled at him suddenly, her eyes seeming to sparkle with unshed tears. Either that or the dehydration was beginning to affect his vision.
"Of course," she said, and held the door open for him.
"Of course," said Ed, sipping his tea (it was a little weak, but he'd done his best), "We don't have to stay here. Maybe we should travel, like we used to…"
Al took a sip from his own mug, looking relieved at the suggestion but his eyes also revealed suspicion. Ed smiled at this. For years his brother had been unable to physically show his feelings at all, and because of this even now he didn't know how to properly hide what he was thinking.
But no matter what Ed did, neither could he hide anything from Al.
"You've got some ulterior plan hidden in that mind of yours, Brother," he pointed out.
"Maybe," Ed replied cheekily. As the conversation ebbed he could see his younger brother grow sad and thoughtful again. He sighed. It would be many nights before Al would be able to get to sleep properly. It helped a little that he'd given him his room, taking Alphons's as his own, but Al blamed himself so easily…
"Look, I don't think we'll ever understand why all this happened. I don't think we'll ever truly understand how the gate works. Dad was the only one who did and he's…" He trailed off, frowning down into his mug. Where had that come from? He'd meant to say something comforting for Al, and now here we was causing himself pain drawing up gruesome memories…
"It seems like all I find here is death and sadness," Al said.
"You want to be a little more depressing?" Ed wondered, frustrated suddenly. He stood up sharply and slammed his hands on the table, leaning forward so he was almost nose to nose with his brother. "You found me!"
To his chagrin Alphonse only laughed, a smile reaching his eyes for the first time that day. Ed was too surprised to say anything. He was used to most people being intimidated by his anger… everyone, in fact, except Alphons. Al too, he remembered.
"That's right," Al said, still giggling slightly. "I found you."
WHERE DID THIS COME FROM?
I wanted to write something Winry/Alphons. This, as a friend of mine graciously pointed out, is a "crack pairing." But once I thought of it I couldn't let it go. True this only has extremely, microscopically, not really implied Winry/Alphons, but who knows? Maybe something else will come along.
IN CASE YOU WERE CONFUSED…
-That random bit of mathematical jargon delta v v(e) ln m(0)/m(f) is Tsiolkovsky's rocket equation. I don't pretend to understand it, but you can bet Alphons does! (10/21 Edit: Hah! I take physics now and I DO understand it! Take that, Tsiolkovsky!)
-'Alphonse' denotes Alphonse Elric, and 'Alphons' (a spelling I picked up from the back of my CoS DVD case) denotes Alphons Heiderich. I didn't want to point this out in the beginning since it would give everything away (not that anything here was much of a surprise), but there it is just in case some of the narrative was a bit confusing.
-The coat… I would imagine it's Ed's, although I don't know how it got in the gate and how Alphons managed to find it. That passage just sort of wrote itself in as a bit of pseudo-symbolism.