I wrote this a while ago, and then I was surprised to find that I actually hadn't posted it here. So here goes.
Warning: minor spoilers for the end of the anime, high morbidity level.
His Own Patch of Earth
The last thing he had ever expected was to find the place foreign. He had thought that when he finally made it, the unmistakable feel of 'home' would permeate the very air, that he would be able to tell he was back even with his eyes closed.
Yet the memories had faded over the years; first becoming hazy reproductions of the original, later blurring until all that was left was a memory of a memory of a place he had once loved. And now he stood on a hill, and realized that the frozen, barren winter landscape was completely unfamiliar to him.
Shivering, he pulled his too-thin coat closer to his body, and searched helplessly for some landmark. Icy hills surrounded him, and off to his left he could see the dark stain of a hibernating forest.
There were houses in the distance, their roofs small blots of color. The smoke rising from their chimneys seemed the only moving thing in the wasteland.
Only one thing was close by - a tall tree, currently clothed in ice, the ground beneath it uneven.
The cold was rapidly seeping into his bones, and Edward knew he had to move if he didn't want to freeze. He was far too bone-tired to even consider attempting to reach one of the houses, though he knew he had to get there eventually. Better to start with a closer goal.
With slow, heavy footsteps Edward forced himself towards the tree. Strangely, he felt drawn to it, and now that he was closer he could see that the unevenness was caused by a grave beneath it.
Suddenly the view snapped into familiarity. The hills, the forest, the tree, the remains of a burnt house- a grave? It was only then that he realized that he was well and truly home, that the years of work had finally paid off, that he had beat the Gate once and for all.
He wasn't crying, no, because no tears could fall. They froze long before they reached his cheeks. But suddenly the cold didn't bother him quite so much, and he forced his legs to move faster, the prosthetic painful and ungainly in the snow.
The relief was cut off by the realization of what he was seeing.
A grave. What was a grave doing here? The last time he had been here –years ago- there had been nothing of the sort.
There could only be one person that anyone would dare bury near this burnt house.
His heart pounded wildly in his ears, and terror flooded his chest. To work so hard, only to discover Al was-
Breath freezing in his lungs, blood ice in his veins, Edward finally floundered up the hill and threw himself at the new grave, frantically brushing snow off it.
Only a single prayer burned through his mind, one thought above all others, a desperate hope that the name inscribed on it wouldn't be the one he most feared to see.
But he couldn't enjoy the relief, because now he felt like his heart had stopped, and he couldn't force himself to understand what the grave was saying.
More scrabbling accomplished nothing but freezing his hands further. The lovingly engraved words didn't change.
Edward Elric, they proclaimed. The Fullmetal Alchemist. Died 1915. Before all else, a brother.
Edward knew he wasn't thinking properly. There was a buzzing in his ears, his breath was coming too quickly and his stomach felt queasy, but nothing rivaled the storm inside his mind: a storm of ice, of crystal-clear truth which cut him to the bone.
He was dead. He was dead and gone and buried; the grave said so, didn't it?
His shaking knees finally gave way, and he sank helplessly into the snow by the grave, unable to understand it.
All those years he had dreamed and slaved to reach home, had prayed to see his brother again –all wasted. No wonder it had taken him so long to find a way. He had been working alone, and he knew that alone he was never at his best.
Al was his inspiration, his heart, his soul.
And Al had buried him, because Al no longer needed him, a relic of a shared past nobody wanted to think of.
Somehow, seeing the grave snapped something inside of him, skewed his perceptions beyond repair.
The icy wind blew in his face, stung his cheeks, ripped tears from his eyes and whipped his hair into a frenzy, but it no longer bothered him.
So this was what it was like, being dead.
He had died, and been brought back, offered a second chance. But he had given up that chance too, and died again. How stupid of him not to realize it, when everybody else seemed to.
A new start was offered to him, a different existence, but he had foolishly insisted on returning to his old one. What did he have to return to, really?
In front of his eyes, he could almost see the story being played out. Al restored, waking up to a world without his brother, realizing that his brother was gone.
Deciding his brother wouldn't return.
Oh, surely Al had hoped, in the beginning, but too much time passed. It was what, fifteen years already? Finally, Al's friends, his family, convinced him to face the truth, to stop living in the shadow of his dead legend of a brother.
A legend, surely, for nothing else could account for the sheer volume of rotting flower petals scattered around his grave.
And so, his dear, sweet little brother fondly transmuted his grave –he would recognize Al's work anywhere- and put the stories to rest.
Had Edward been able to see himself, he would have perceived that he now wore the same nostalgic, happy-sad look he always wore when thinking of his brother, completely oblivious to the world around him.
Al would have grown up.
The fantasy continued in his mind's eye, Al finding confidence, making new friends, maybe even marrying Winry –he'd be old enough by now, right?
But Edward –there was no place for a dead man in this story of the living. Where would he go now?
This was his place, he thought. Right here was his very own piece of land, which had been designated as his for eternity. His very own grave.
No, something in his mind protested. It didn't have to be like this. He could still break free from the strange, unnatural tie that held him to this spot.
Now he understood the stories of ghosts bound to certain places. What person could resist the thrall of their own epitaph, neatly summarizing their life and paltry accomplishments into a dry line of hollow text?
Seized by the need to see what was under the stone –if there was nothing there, it couldn't truly be his grave, it was just a nice piece of marble with a meaningless inscription- he pushed himself unsteadily to his feet.
Several fruitless minutes of heaving and shoving later, he realized he couldn't budge it on his own. He needed a bar, a lever, because he would never dare destroy what his brother had created.
From some long-forgotten corner of his mind, a memory arose, of an arcane design reflected throughout his body. Once again, for the first time in years, his hands closed together in a seal, and the forces of the world obeyed his will.
He should have taken it as a sign, could have moved ahead with the momentum, but he forgot all else in the desperate need to discover what lay under the stone.
It might have been an eternity later when the stone finally lay on its side, out of the way, and he was clawing at the frozen dirt, tearing it up with his messily-transmuted pole.
With a solid thunk, he hit something. A coffin, he realized in fascination. By now, he was completely incapable of stopping. He had to see, had to know, would it somehow be his own body in there? Would he look down on his own rotten, worm-eaten face and finally realize he was dead?
The lid was heavy, but he finally managed to heave it aside, and-
It was empty.
Edward stared at it, a vague sense of relief flooding his mind, even as he found himself mesmerized by the empty coffin. His coffin, under his gravestone, it was just waiting for him to fill it.
A curious, insidious though flitted through his mind: what was it like, to lie in your own grave? As if drawn by a magnet, completely unable to resist, Edward slowly lowered himself in. Would it be too small, the size of his sixteen-year-old self?
He was surprised to find that he wasn't particularly surprised that it fit him perfectly. After all, it was his grave. Of course it would be his size.
The stone was frigid and hard, and Edward shifted around for a few minutes before he was comfortable.
From where he lay, all he could see was sky. It was a grayish-blue, unclouded by snow, though the temperature was below freezing. The sun cast a diffuse glow across the world, not enough to truly bother his eyes.
The quiet soothed his nerves, and Edward wondered absently when was the last time he actually lay down to look at the sky.
Far away as ever, and yet seeming close enough to touch, the clouds hovered in front of his eyes, yet for once he felt no urge to reach for the impossible.
A strange peace settled over him, and the cold receded discreetly from his limbs. It felt like a dream, a sweet warm dream with his eyes open and the heavens laid out before him.
It's too cold, the thought fluttered through his mind. Somewhere in the depths of his consciousness, his sense of self-preservation attempted to awaken him, to galvanize his body into movement.
I can't, he realized with some bitterness. He was too drowsy, too warm, and too stiff to even think about getting away. And really, what was the point of going anywhere, anyway? This was where Al wanted him to be. He might as well give in; he never could refuse his brother anything.
One last warm tear ran down his face, over what had never been and now would never be. Yet somehow, he found a strange, ridiculous happiness in him, over this last gift that his little brother had given him. It was better to be happy than to be bitter, anyway, especially when it was too late for anything else.
It fits, he wanted to tell Al, but the dream was too tempting. The cold no longer bothered him; he felt pleasantly sleepy, and he was so comfortable…
On the frozen hill in the dead of winter, Edward fell asleep.