YES THIS IS AN UPDATE.
So I'm going to do the whole "why this chapter is five years late" spiel right now and get it off my chest (and it's been so long, I guess you guys deserve a bit of an explanation...).
1. It's not exactly writer's block. It's that my writing muse turned into a drawing muse. I've improved a lot in drawing, but have been finding it pretty darn tough to write.
2. I'm an exchange student in South Korea right now. This eats up a LOT of my time and attention. I've gone from zero Korean to being able to hold basic conversations in like 4 months, which is pretty darn fast. Immersion courses work, in case any of you ever wondered.
3. At some point during the past year or so it hit me that I... kind of Do Not Like the ending of the FMA manga. The whole thing left me a bit unhappy about FMA in general, and probably didn't do much good to my muse. Also, I've fallen out of contact with a lot of FMA fandom friends who seem to be hanging elsewhere these days, and most of the people in all my old haunts seem to be writing about aspects of the fandom that I'm not quite so into.
4. Every so often I post about my musical - so yeah, the musical. We performed our 3rd musical about 8 months ago. It was an original anime production, a TON of work (we had to sew 50 costumes. I counted), and the final months of the musical are around when I first stopped writing regularly, because I just couldn't work it into my schedule. It came out pretty awesome, though, I think. Hopefully by next chapter there'll be a (subbed) download link, if anybody wants to see it.
5. I've started working on the story for an original webcomic. But it's slow going, especially because after being part of a fandom community, to suddenly write all by my lonesome is really different. So I've been trying to whip myself into writing, but since I don't have anybody to really get feedback from, it hasn't done much for my general writing muse. (actually, if any of you out there are interested in being my enablers, or just hearing about it in case it interests you, please drop me a line. Writing more will also mean more Mirrorworld faster! and I really want to get back into writing more...)
My excuses, you have seen them. Now about the end of Mirrorworld - part of the reason I waited so long to post is because I wanted to make sure I'd have some of the next chapter written before I posted this. It's usually easier for me to keep writing once I have something written. So the next chapter WILL come, it just might take some time. But it will. (actually it will probably be the last chapter; another reason I couldn't give up. Giving up two chapters from the end is beyond pathetic).
Finally, I want to thank all of you. Everybody who left a comment, everybody who sent a message, everybody who expressed hope I'd continue this fic. Some days I would just look at those comments and remind myself that YES people still want to know how it ends. So even if it was tough, I made myself write another few sentences. I really hope this chapter won't disappoint. It's been so long, and I think my writing, and the way I build plot and view the world has changed - which will probably affect the way the ending will pan out, a little. Also, I feel like I'm a little rusty. So I hope you will be gentle with me. I'm going to do the best I can to end this properly, even though it's been so long, and even if the next chapter is as tough to write as this one was.
And, of course, thanks to Yixsh who stuck by me this whole time, and who helped me keep going, and is ever my faithful beta.
Please enjoy the chapter!
Court resumed, and Edward was contrite. Alfons could tell because instead of his usual black-on-black, Edward had gotten a dark red button-down shirt from somewhere, and had glanced at Alfons several times to make sure he noticed.
Which he had. He could hardly not notice it, especially when paired with his leather pants. He would have probably felt very guilty over being distracted by how nice Edward looked in red at a time like this if he hadn't known this was exactly what Edward wanted. Distraction had been on his mind when he had gotten dressed that morning.
But what Edward probably hadn't expected was for Alfons to feel impossibly sad, seeing him like this. Putting on pretty clothes to please Alfons because they couldn't get close enough for Edward to just apologize, and Alfons would smile, and that would be that.
Alfons told himself again that Al said Edward had promised they were going to win. He had no idea how, but he trusted Edward not to lie. And he should know what was up soon enough, because today was the first day of the defense.
Harris had been nervous all morning. Alfons had found him in the bathroom before the trial, leaning over a sink and looking slightly grey.
"This is going to be stuff of legends," he had said. "No matter the outcome." Alfons hadn't really known what to say, which was okay, because it didn't look like Harris needed much of an answer. He had straightened up, then, and added, "It's a shame the trial is closed."
Now, looking at Harris, Alfons could hardly tell his not-father had been so nervous earlier. The man sat quietly, hair combed and suit neat, and looked supremely confident.
Winry snaked her hand into Alfons', a sudden movement which nearly made him jump out of his skin in surprise. At his questioning look, she squeezed his hand, and looked determined. Alfons squeezed back.
"He promised we'd win," he whispered, and she nodded.
Harris addressed the court then, and explained that his intention was to prove, beyond any doubt, that though a heinous crime had been committed, under Amestrian law it was impossible to sentence Edward to death.
Alfons thought, even if Edward evaded the death penalty and was given a life sentence, it was only the beginning of more running, leaving yet another place he'd grown used to. Where once the thought would have terrified him, now all he felt was cold resignation. It was so much better than death, but….
The trial was under way.
"The defense would like to call an expert witness, Dr. Jeremiah Cole."
A slim, bespectacled man, clad in an expensive black suit beneath his lab coat, took the stand and was sworn in.
"Please state your credentials and field of expertise," Harris said.
"I graduated from Central School of Medicine seventeen years ago, completed a residency in surgery and a fellowship in trauma surgery. I have since worked in the trauma center at South Hill Medical Centre, and am now a surgeon in the First Military Hospital. I specialize in spinal injury."
"Thank you." Harris motioned, and two blown-up full color photos were brought in, exhibiting a shape familiar to Alfons: the large, vaguely eye-shaped scar which marked Edward's stomach and back. From the confused sounds around the courtroom, most people did not understand what they were seeing. When Alfons glanced aside, he saw Edward's back was rigid, but he was watching Harris unflinchingly.
"Can you please tell the court what this is a picture of?"
"A prominent scar which appears on the back and stomach of Mr. Elric. The scar is nearly identical on both sides of his body, as the pictures show."
"What can you tell us about this injury?"
"It appears to be due to penetrating trauma, perhaps caused by some large bladed object. Since the scar is slightly larger in the front, the weapon would have entered from the front of his body and exited at the back."
"Can you date this injury?"
"The appearance of the scar suggests that it is at least one to two years old."
Harris nodded, and at a sign from him, the photograph was replaced with an X-ray of Edward's torso. "Dr. Cole, please confirm for the court that this is an X-ray of the defendant."
"What does this X-ray show?"
"We can clearly see marks of the injury on the bones, in a circular pattern on the lower part of his chest cavity. The blow shattered five ribs, here and here," he gestured with a pointer, "and severed the spinal cord. Several fragments of bone remain embedded in the surrounding organs, though they seem to be doing no damage. The bones are more opaque at the center of the injury."
"What would explain these findings?"
The doctor shook his head. "This is a highly unusual finding, one I am not familiar with. These are not typical findings when multiple bones are injured. I would have to make a more thorough examination."
"From the physical examination you conducted, can you give us any further information about the scar?"
"There appears to be a discoloration of the tissue beneath it, roughly corresponding to its external shape and the pattern of damage to the bones."
"Can you explain these phenomena?"
"No. I have never seen anything like this."
"If you were to receive a patient with the type of injuries that Mr. Elric seems to have sustained, how would you proceed with treatment?"
Dr. Cole shook his head again. "These injuries are incompatible with survival. We would give the best medical care possible, but not expect our patient to live."
Murmurs broke out, and Winry was squeezing Alfons' hand fit to crush. When he glanced aside, most people in his field of view looked confused; Mustang looked intent; Al looked horrified.
Alfons had the suspicion it would get worse. He had known about the injury, had heard about it from Edward's own lips, but seeing its effect spread out before him was frightening. He tried to catch Edward's eye, but Edward was still looking steadfastly forward.
Harris turned to Roscoe. "Your witness."
The prosecutor didn't seem to be entirely sure of what tack he should be pursuing, but questioned Dr. Cole anyway. He got him to admit that yes, there was a chance of survival, but it would probably require divine intervention. Yes, sometimes medical miracles happened. They released Dr. Cole, and Harris called in his next witness, a military doctor in charge of physically assessing soldiers' fitness.
She testified that Edward had been to her for a checkup approximately two months before his disappearance, and there had been no sign of an injury of that magnitude on him.
Might she have forgotten?
"Not something like that," she said. "And anyway, I was always careful with him. He was such a little guy, and the automail was too heavy for him."
Edward didn't react, though Winry made a small indignant sound next to Alfons.
The prosecution had no questions for the witness.
"For my next witness," Harris said, "I would like to call Professor Michael Doe of Central University."
The professor took the stand, and Alfons had a powerful moment of déjà-vu. He was the spitting image of Mikael Drechsler, Alfons' first physics teacher, from the stocky frame to the crooked nose. A bit older, though, which made sense considering how long had passed since Alfons had last seen him.
When he opened his mouth and greeted the court in English (Amestrian, Alfons reminded himself), Alfons berated himself for the sudden, bitter disappointment that stuck in his throat.
"Professor Doe. In the year 1914 you headed a project which investigated the effects of alchemy on the human brain, correct?"
"Could you please give us a quick summary of the objectives and results?"
"Objection!" Roscoe stated. "Irrelevant."
Harris looked to the judges, and said, "Your Honors, I intend to show that this study is extremely relevant to Mr. Elric's future verdict."
Alfons really, really did not like that word, verdict.
"Overruled," said Justice Castillo. "Continue, Mr. Harris."
"Thank you." He turned back to the professor, and repeated the question.
"The objective of the study was to examine the effects of the use of alchemy on brain activity. Using recently developed technology known as the electroencephalograph or EEG, the brain activity of alchemists was measured before, during and after the use of alchemy. It was discovered that the use of alchemy produced a spike in brain activity in the frontal-temporal regions which dissipated gradually over the following five to fifteen minutes. In frequent practitioners, dissipation time could reach up to half an hour."
"Thank you," Harris interjected when the professor paused for breath. "Can you confirm that the defendant, the Fullmetal Alchemist, was among your test subjects?"
Three large charts were brought in, printed lines zigzagging crazily across them. "Can you confirm that these charts are the defendant's, as measured during the study you conducted?"
"Could you please explain to the court why you did not use these results in your study?"
"His recordings were anomalous," the professor said. "Fullmetal's normal level of brain activity was far higher than anything we had measured. On the second chart, which was measured during use of alchemy, we can clearly see that the level of brain activity was so high the machine found it difficult to measure. These results did not match the others, and were therefore shelved, and not included in the final statistics."
"What hypothesis did you reach concerning Mr. Elric's measurements?"
"At the time, machine malfunction was ruled out. We considered that it could be due to the Fullmetal Alchemist's extraordinary skill, combined with his young age."
Roscoe looked supremely annoyed by the whole line of questioning, and even the judges showing signs of impatience. To Alfons, it wasn't immediately clear what this had to do with the trial, but he found it fascinating nonetheless. Fascinating, and slightly scary. He wondered if Ed's genius had anything to do with it, if his own, less interesting brain would yield similar results.
At Harris' request, yet another chart was brought in, and Roscoe leapt to his feet.
"This is ridiculous! Your Honors, I fail to see how continuing this tack will contribute to this trial. Its place is in a university lecture hall, not a courtroom!"
"It is relevant, Your Honors," Harris said, and Alfons momentarily saw through the mask of calm. ""It stands to reason that evidence in a case as delicate as this one would be neither straightforward nor simple." Harris waited for a moment, then asked, "May I continue?"
"Continue," said Justice Tsamis. "But please reach your point."
Harris turned back to Professor Doe, who showed no sign of impatience at the many delays. "Professor, can you please tell the court what this graph represents?"
"It is the current reading of Mr. Elric's brain at rest, uninfluenced by use of alchemy." He paused, looked a bit awkward. "Of course there would be no alchemic influence, such a regrettable case of burnout…." He cleared his throat.
Harris appeared unperturbed, and Alfons remembered that Ed had his alchemy back, and had to resist the urge to grin like crazy.
"Please describe the difference between this recording and the ones from six years ago."
The professor settled back in his seat, his voice once again taking on a lecture-hall drone. "The spikes and valleys are far more agitated than they were, but the most marked difference is that there appears to be a decrease in brain activity between now and then. Where the electrical readings on his brain before were beyond any measure of ordinary, the current readings show an amount of activity still greater than normal, but not significantly so."
"Do you think there is a chance this is due to a malfunction in your machinery?"
"The machines were checked and the possibility of malfunction was eliminated."
"No further questions," Harris said to the court.
Roscoe's problem, they quickly saw, was that he wasn't entirely sure what Harris was trying to prove, and so found it difficult to counter Harris' defense. Instead, he picked on any point which had seemed important to Harris, to find weaknesses. He established that the EEG was still considered experimental technology, and that deciphering its readings was still in the early stages of research. However, Doe remained adamant that Harris' claims stood: the changes in the movement of electricity in Edward's brain, whatever they might signify, were accurate.
A recess was called at one o'clock, to everybody's relief. Alfons stood up and stretched, listening idly to the hum of conversation around him. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Edward being led away to wherever they kept him when he wasn't appearing before the court. On an impulse, Alfons followed.
Nobody paid much attention to his exit, and he was relieved to find himself unchallenged as he walked the dark wood-panelled corridors. He was stopped by the first perimeter of guards, but some of them must have recognized him, because they patted him down to make sure he wasn't sneaking anything in, and let him through. Some of the others eyed him suspiciously, but didn't say anything. In front of a barred door he found the two guards who had been with Edward in the courtroom, and now realized that the one on the left was Cain's counterpart in this world. Maybe his luck would hold.
Alfons shifted from foot to foot, then took a few steps forward. "Can I see him?" he asked, trying to pitch his voice low. It echoed anyway.
The guards exchanged a glance. Alfons knew they weren't supposed to let him, but-
"Ten minutes," Cain decided. "Get in quickly, and be quiet, whatever you do."
Quiet. Alfons' face burned. For goodness' sake, what did they think he and Edward would get up to in ten minutes?
The other guard kept watch while Cain –Fury, Alfons remembered, undid the lock and let Alfons slip inside.
The room was small but relatively pleasant. Though the windows were barred, they let in great patches of sunlight, one of which fell squarely on top of Edward. It made his hair burn gold, lit up the shirt against skin which seemed less pale in this light.
"Alfons?" Edward looked up, astonished. Alfons all but ran to him, dropped to sit on the narrow bench and wrapped arms around him. Edward tried to hug him back in a clink of chains, unable to separate his hands enough to get them around Alfons' body.
Alfons leaned back, and traced his index finger along one manacle, warmed by Edward's flesh.
"You could take these off now, couldn't you?" he murmured, his fingers still playing with Edward's wrist. Edward wasn't truly captive; he could get free at any time. The thought was calming, exciting.
"Do you want me to?" Edward asked, a bit hesitant. Alfons looked up from his wrist to Edward's anxious face, and wrapped his hand around Edward's.
"It would be a stupid risk," he said. "But I know you can." He smiled, but Edward didn't return it.
"Put your arms around me," Alfons said. He pushed Edward's arms up, so Edward could loop them over his head. Which he did, though to Alfons he seemed a bit reluctant. Now, pressed together, he could feel the tension in Edward's frame. Alfons put one arm securely around his waist, fingers tangling in the maddening red fabric of Edward's shirt.
"Alfons," Edward tried again.
"I miss you," Alfons cut him off. He nuzzled Edward's neck, undid the top buttons of his shirt with the other hand. "I want you out of here. I want us to stop running."
Edward turned his head away, which could have been an evasive maneuvre, or giving Alfons more access to his neck. Alfons decided to pretend it was the latter and kissed him there, though the angle was a bit awkward.
"Don't," Edward murmured.
"I have new rocket schematics I want to show you," Alfons said into his hair. "I want to have lazy Sunday mornings again. I want to hear you complaining at night that my feet are cold."
A shiver went through Edward, and he tried to pull away from Alfons. The chain caught on his back, and Alfons helped disentangle him. He didn't like having Edward restrained.
"What if we can't have that?" Edward snapped.
"And why can't we?"
Edward closed his mouth and looked miserable.
"I don't know if Harris told you," Alfons said, "but you're being an asshole about the secrecy thing." He couldn't really express in words how nervous he had been lately, how wound up. He didn't feel like trying, either.
"I'm sorry," Edward said, hands in his lap, eyes on his hands. That was all he said, no explanation, which would have been nice.
"I'm really, really sorry."
It got repetitive, Alfons thought. He scratched at his neck, and shook his head. "Sometimes I don't know why I put up with you," he commented. He was unprepared for the way Edward jerked as if burned, to stare at Alfons with naked fear written across his face. Alfons' stomach twisted at the sight.
He lay a hand on Edward's knee, the automail hard under his fingers, but he couldn't reach the other knee from where he was. "Damn it, Edward, I didn't mean it like that and you know it."
Edward forced himself under control, wrested his expression back to neutral.
"Can't you just wait until the trial is over?" Edward asked. "You'll know everything. I'll, I'll tell you whatever you want, then. Just please, give me this time." He looked up at Alfons through long lashes.
And what could Alfons do? Edward was hurting, imprisoned, unhappy, and he had so much more reason to be miserable than Alfons did. So Alfons leaned forward and kissed him. It would have been nice had Edward responded.
"I wanted to make you happy," Edward said seriously.
"You still can," Alfons replied, exasperated. "You know, I used to think that I was going to die of consumption. Having you in my life made me really happy, even though I was afraid of what would happen. And look, it didn't even turn out so bad. Can't you at least try to cheer up?"
Edward sighed and looked away. When he turned back to Alfons, he was making a visible effort to appear more cheerful, without flashing his fake grin. Good.
"Al says he wants us to stay together," Edward said, showing off his positive-thinking skills. Actually, Alfons hadn't gotten the impression Al had more than the barest tolerance for his and Edward's relationship, but Edward wouldn't make this sort of thing up.
"You should listen to him."
Edward cocked his head and debated with himself before speaking again. "Did he tell you about the soul alchemy? How he was… inside my head?"
"Sort of," Alfons said. Al hadn't said much about it, but he could extrapolate. The thought of alchemy being capable of that sort of thing was scary, but at least he knew that anything relating to soul alchemy was mostly unique to Al. He hoped, because he really didn't like that thought. He waited for Edward to continue.
"I keep wanting to ask what he saw there," Edward admitted. "But he hasn't said, and I'm not sure I do want to know."
"Whatever it was, he obviously loves you no less." If somebody had to go traipsing through Edward's mind, Al was probably the best choice. Much as sometimes he might wish he knew what Edward was thinking, he wouldn't want to be inside his thoughts.
"That's true, I guess." Edward shifted, and played with the chain between his wrists. "He's very different from how I remember him," he confessed in a whisper.
What was Alfons supposed to say? It wasn't often Edward talked about his problems. It was rather more uncomfortable than Alfons had expected, but this was a good thing. He just had to not muck it up, now.
"I think you're very different from how he remembers you, too. But you're still brothers."
"Da…" said Edward, drawing Alfons' attention to the fact that he had hardly spoken any Russian at all lately. That had to be a good sign.
There was a knock at the door, which made Edward turn to him, an eyebrow raised. "Why are the guards knocking?"
"I, uh." Alfons couldn't meet his eyes. "I think they think we're having sex."
"I see." Edward was smiling, Alfons could hear it in his voice. He probably found the whole thing funny. Human fingers suddenly buried in his hair, blunt fingernails against his scalp. "Silly," Edward said fondly, and Alfons thought that he might like to be called schatz again some time.
The door opened, and Cain made a jerking movement with his head, gesturing for Alfons to scram. He looked profoundly relieved to find them both clothed.
As he left, Alfons called back daringly, "Bye, Ed," and dashed off before he could see the reaction. The short name felt strange on his tongue. It was what most everybody called Edward, though, so he might as well get used to it.
He hurried back past the guards into the courtroom, and did his best to ignore some of the stares leveled his way. There was no sign of support in Al's expression, but at the same time, he didn't look like he wanted to punch Alfons' lights out, so that was something.
"Did you get anything out of him?" Winry whispered. Alfons shook his head.
"But I'm still glad we talked," he said.
"Shhh," said Mustang. They were starting.
Harris wanted to call a Dr. Michelle Littlewood, who specialized in the care of coma patients, but the doctor was late. They spent half an hour waiting, while the judges looked dour and the people in the courtroom grew increasingly noisy, before somebody rushed in to say that she was detained by some medical emergency and wouldn't be able to come that day. The messenger would have been there earlier, but had spent nearly fifteen minutes arguing with the guards until they let him in.
The judges announced they would adjourn for the day.
Harris wasn't pleased. "I wanted her testimony to come when the information about the graphs was still fresh in everybody's mind. Damn it," he said to Mustang under his breath, before they all left the courtroom.
The next day everybody was on time, including the doctor, who apologized for the day before. Harris tried to gloss over it as much as possible, probably so as not to remind the judges of how annoyed they had been. Once he had established Dr. Littlewood's credentials, he asked her to please describe for the court the advances in understanding of comas with use of the EEG.
The doctor began with a brief description of her early work with coma patients and her more recent work with the EEG on healthy patients. Then she began her explanation.
"The EEG has given us a unique ability to understand what exactly has happened to people in a coma, and assess their chances of ever waking up. In the past, when brain damage was suffered, there was no way to truly assess the amount of damage sustained. The EEG, by measuring the amount of brain activity, can tell us if the person has a chance of recovery, or if the brain is simply too damaged to ever function normally again. In extreme cases, we have seen total death of the brain – when there is no recordable electric activity at all."
"Could you please explain the differences between the charts of healthy and brain damaged people?"
"Certainly. There is a computable average of brain activity seen in humans. Anything below that could be a sign of brain damage."
"Thank you." At a gesture of Harris', Edward's two charts were brought out. "These recordings belong to the defendant, Mr. Elric. The first was performed in the year 1915, the second several weeks ago. What conclusions can you draw from these recordings?"
"Mr. Elric seems to have suffered a dramatic decrease of brain activity. This implies that some parts of his brain are now completely non-functional."
Murmurs spread through the courtroom, and Alfons stiffened in his seat, staring at Edward. Here was one revelation that explained why Edward had been so tense lately. He had holes in his brain. Oh God, how had he managed to keep this to himself so long? Alfons' hands itched to hold Edward, he needed to touch him and kiss him and reassure himself that Edward was still himself, still okay. He wished he could be angry that Edward hadn't told him, but it was sadly typical.
God, no wonder Edward had seemed so off, what with losing focus all the time and speaking Russian and –
Ed, he reminded himself belatedly.
"From your examination of the defendant, can you hypothesize what might have caused this death of brain tissue?"
"I found no signs of head trauma, certainly not enough to cause this sort of damage. The simplest explanations would be extensive oxygen deprivation."
"Can you elaborate on the meaning of 'extensive'?"
Dr. Littlewood looked at the recordings, considering. "From an analysis of the difference between the levels of activity, I can say that on an average person, this amount of damage would have resulted in a permanent vegetative state. To subtract that much brain activity from a normal human brain would leave them basically non-functional at any level. Because Mr. Elric had an unnaturally high level of brain activity, even after this subtraction he is still capable of functioning. Whether or not he is truly functioning normally is beyond my area of expertise. A psychologist would probably have more to say on the subject."
Edward's brain was half as functional as it had been, and he was still a genius. As a teenager, he must have been frightening. Alfons slid down in his chair a little, and felt very stupid. He was so normal next to Edward - and that was taking his body-reversal and the worms into account!
Out of the corner of his eye he caught a glimpse of Winry's pale face, and Mustang's set jaw. No wonder Edward hadn't wanted to deal with the repercussions of this. And it would only get worse, Alfons thought, because there were revelations yet to come.
"In your experience, how long would a person need to be deprived of oxygen for the brain to start dying, and for damage of this extent to occur?"
"After five minutes of oxygen deprivation, irreversible brain damage sets in."
"Is this amount of brain damage survivable?"
"Usually not, but Mr. Elric has evidently managed."
Roscoe spent longer on her than on any of the others. Her claims sounded fantastic, and he kept trying to weaken them in some way, but Dr. Littlewood refused to be swayed. The medical evidence spoke for itself, she said. One did not become a good doctor by ignoring what was in front of their face, even if it did not line up with other information. But she admitted it didn't make much sense.
Once she was dismissed, the judges called a recess, at Harris' request. After a brief discussion in chambers, the judges announced that court would be adjourned for the day, and reconvene the following day with Harris' next witness.
The sunlight was bright outside. Alfons stood blinking, waiting for his eyes to adjust, and reflected that he was no longer used to being out at these hours. The day stretched ahead, empty. He exchanged a glance with Winry, who shrugged.
Riza stepped up next to them, trim as always in her uniform. "Why don't you come along with me? Meet some of the people who have been fighting for us."
They didn't really have anything better to do with themselves, so Alfons shrugged and Winry agreed, and together with Al, they followed Riza to a military car.
After a short drive into a neighborhood Alfons was unfamiliar with, they got out of the car in front of a fancy building whose gate was guarded by soldiers marked with an affiliation that wasn't Mustang's. Alfons still didn't really follow which colors stood for who; he wasn't sure he ever would.
Mustang had arrived in a car ahead of them, and was waiting with several other soldiers. He looked unsurprised at them being there, but then, it generally took a lot to surprise him. A quick check to make inventory of their weapons, and the guards allowed them in. The hallway they entered was simple, but led into a large, fancy room lit by chandeliers. Most of the people milling around were in uniform. Alfons half expected to see waiters moving between people, but evidently it wasn't quite that kind of gathering.
"Hey Al," Winry murmured behind him, "think you can transmute a chandelier for my workroom? I'm sure Granny would love it."
Mustang was uninterested in silly things like chandeliers, and went to greet some of the men in the nearest group. Alfons thought he recognized one or two of them from the trial. Evidently some of them rated an invitation to the proceedings.
When Al and Winry were noticed, several men and women headed over to talk to them. Alfons tried to stick near, but a large, grizzled man bore down on him before he could move. He moved a bit like a soldier, but was wearing a tailored suit, with a tie pin to show his colors.
"Look what we have here!" he said, so enthusiastic that Alfons nearly checked behind him to see if there was something vastly interesting there. "You're the famous boyfriend, are you not?" He stuck out a hand expectantly.
"Er." Alfons shook his hand, the palm rough and callused. The boyfriend? Did everybody call him that?
"Alfons, please meet Mr. John Storry of the Northern Democratic Unity," Riza said from behind him, nearly making Alfons jump again.
"Nice to meet you, sir," Alfons said. "Yes, I'm Edward's boyfriend." He sort of stumbled over the word 'boyfriend', but hoped he didn't sound too stupid.
"Mustang has talked of you," Mr. Storry said. (This was news to Alfons). "He's made all sorts of insinuations that you're an inventor of some sort. Are you also an alchemist, like Fullmetal?"
"No, I'm an engineer. But Edward is good at engineering, too. We have worked together on an invention, which…" he trailed off, unsure. He knew he wasn't supposed to bring up the aeroplanes, given the destruction they would undoubtedly be used for. But wasn't he here to show off a little, make connections?
Connections on his own merit, not just as Edward's boyfriend.
Mr. Storry was still looking at him expectantly, and Alfons tried belatedly to remember where the sentence had left off.
"I, well, it is early to talk of patenting inventions, don't you think? First we must clear Edward's name."
"Good man," said Storry. "It's good to know he is surrounded by people as loyal as you. "
Alfons noted that a few more people had joined them, creating a small group around him. He was sweating under his shirt, and hoped it wasn't visible. As Storry told the other people how nice Alfons was, it occurred to him that he was being buttered up, but the experience was novel enough for him not to mind. Being treated like somebody important was a nice change.
Already he was being offered a workshop in which to develop his prototypes.
"Won't Edward transmute them for me?" he wondered aloud, before he could consider that maybe he was being impolite, or – or –
"Of course, of course!" the man – Alfons really couldn't remember his name, he would have to ask Riza later – said after a slight pause. "But still, you'll need workspace. And of course, once you start production, it's unrealistic to expect Fullmetal to do all the work."
"I'm sure he could," Storry laughed, "but then what would all our wage-earners do?"
They didn't even know what he was building, Alfons thought, and already all these people wanted to sponsor him.
Not him; the Fullmetal Alchemist's boyfriend. His mood soured, and keeping the smile on his face became an effort. He tried not to think of it, which meant obviously that he could soon think of nothing else. Every time somebody greeted him, he thought of how Edward was not nearly so approachable, it made sense to go through him. Every time somebody inquired after his skills and research, he knew they assumed he had to be intelligent because Edward liked him. And even if the monetary investment washed out, he could see people thinking, at least they would have ingratiated themselves. Money wasn't everything.
Finally he had a few minutes to himself when the latest group wandered off. It was such a relief he wondered if he was above feigning a cough just to have an excuse to get out of there.
A glance at the clock showed that barely half an hour had passed, and Alfons almost groaned aloud. There was no way anybody else would want to leave yet….
"I want to get out of here," Al murmured suddenly from behind him.
Alfons turned to him. Al didn't look welcoming, but wasn't being overtly antagonistic.
"It's a bit much," Alfons agreed.
Al snorted. "The funniest part is that Brother wouldn't give any of these people the time of day."
Alfons looked over the room, remembered Germany. "I don't know," he mused. "Edward also helped us find supporters for our rocketry studies. He didn't like it, but he knew he couldn't let us do all the work all the time." Before he had gotten the whole three-dimensional-array thing into his head and quit working on rockets altogether. "He is so smart, it would impress people."
"Figures," Al said bitterly. Alfons sighed to himself. Not again…. "Is there anything else Brother suddenly started doing? Did he stop eating so much? Did he stop complaining when people called him short?"
"I don't know what he was like before," Alfons said, more sharply than he intended. "I don't know how different he is." He paused. "He didn't eat so much," he couldn't help but say. "We didn't have much food, and I think the automail makes him more hungry."
Al mumbled something under his breath and walked off, just short of stomping.
It was true, though. Alfons shook his head.
A short time later Riza came to rescue him, saying it was time they left. Alfons made no protest. When they reached Gracia's, it was clear that the woman was pleased to see Riza, and immediately began a campaign to get her to stay for dinner. Once she got Elysia's help, Riza was unable to resist.
"Come on." Alfons found Winry tugging on his sleeve, towing Al with her other hand. "Let's let them catch up. I told Gracia we'd take care of dinner."
"But Winry," Al whined, though to Alfons it seemed more on principle, because he followed her to the kitchen readily enough.
"So, what can you make without supervision?" Winry asked, hands on her hips.
"Eggs?" Alfons suggested. Winry sniffed in disdain.
He did have a steady boyfriend, Alfons thought to point out, but decided against it.
"Spaghetti," Winry decided. "And garlic bread, with a salad on the side. Don't look so panicked, it's not that difficult."
It really wasn't, Alfons discovered, as long as you didn't try to make the noodles yourself, and made a mental note to get more cooking tips from Winry for when he and Ed had their own place again. At some point, Al and Winry started swapping jokes, and decided that the fact that Alfons got none of them was even funnier than the jokes themselves.
"But they're not funny," Alfons protested, which only make them laugh the more.
Dinner was happy, and for a time it was so easy to forget…. But the spell wore off, Riza left, and Alfons remembered that he wasn't supposed to be sitting around cracking jokes when Edward would be taking the witness stand tomorrow.
Though he was tired, he found himself lying awake in his bed, staring at the darkness, unable to sleep.
Time passed, marked by the uneven movement of light from outside across the ceiling, and the sounds of occasional cars and passers-by. When Al spoke, Alfons thought he was dreaming.
"You're going to take him away, aren't you."
Alfons sat up. "That's what you're worried about now?"
"Yes," Al snapped. "Because we'll win this stupid trial, okay? We're going to win it, so I'm going to sit here and feel sorry for myself because you'll take my brother and move away with him. Where'll I go, huh? Fucking Resembool?"
"You could stay with us," Alfons said, because that's what you were supposed to say. Al started laughing, and after a slightly shocked moment, Alfons did too.
"That would be so awkward," Al said.
"It would be awful. Imagine going to sleep-"
"Imagine the neighbors!"
"Imagine the laundry…."
Alfons did, and couldn't laugh anymore because living in the same house, the three of them, was really one of the more terrible things he could think of. It would be a complete disaster.
Judging by his silence, Al seemed to be thinking along the same lines.
Licking his lips, Alfons tried to find something to say. He was so tired of fighting with Al. "We'll figure something out," he said weakly.
For a time, Al didn't answer. Then – "We've been through worse."
"Yes." Alfons thought of Germany, of America, of getting shot, of Edward getting kidnapped. Of dying several times over. "That's true."
"Hell, we're going through worse right now."
"It could still be worse," Alfons had to say. "We could also be on trial."
"Go to hell," Al said, without any real venom.
Just a few more hours, Alfons thought, and it would be morning.
Edward stood on the witness stand, and swore by all he believed in to tell the truth, all the truth, and nothing but the truth. To Alfons, it was clear that he was preparing to lie, which was kind of strange. Hadn't the whole point of this been that he wouldn't have to–?
Pointless wondering. He would find out soon enough, because Harris was asking his first question.
"Mr. Elric, can you please tell us, in your own words, of the events leading up to your disappearance four years ago?"
Alfons could see Roscoe tempted to interrupt, but curiosity kept him quiet. Starting with this question guaranteed no interference, because it was the one thing everybody was positively dying to know.
Edward (Ed. He kept forgetting) licked his lips. "I'll skip the parts everybody knows," he said. "King Bradley blamed me for Lior, and Al and I were on the run. We didn't have anywhere to go. Somewhere off Dublith we ran into a humanoid chimera named Envy. The bastard sneaked up on us, and kidnapped Al."
The entire soliloquy was delivered almost in monotone, while Ed stared off uncaringly into the distance. Alfons wanted to glance aside and see if Winry, Mustang and Al could separate the truths from the half-truths, but resisted the temptation. They would figure it out.
"I got beat up pretty bad-"
"Why was Envy after your brother?" Harris interrupted gently.
Ed laughed. "Some days everybody was after Al. Walking empty suits of armor are pretty rare. People kept saying it was like being immortal – which is total bullshit – and tried to figure out how to do it themselves, damned if I know why they'd want to…." He caught sight of Harris' face, and got back on track. "So anyway. I picked myself up, and chased them to Central. I had heard there was a city underneath-"
A murmur started up in the audience, and one of the judges banged a gavel for silence.
"Who did you hear this from?" Harris asked.
Who was dead. Alfons resisted the urge to smile at the elegance.
"Anyway." Edward shifted in his seat and shook his hair out of his eyes, swallowed, and continued. "I found a staircase under some broken-down church in the slums and went down. There really was a whole fuck- a whole city down there, totally deserted. Somebody should look into it, really, it's a bad idea to have a vast cavern underneath a city, you know? One of these days we could all-" At a noise from Harris he checked himself.
"Sorry." His voice was pitched just a bit high; he wasn't finding this easy. "Yeah. I searched for a while and found them. Envy and Al. Envy had Al in some kind of array, wanted to do alchemy on him."
"Did you get a look at the array?"
Edward shook his head. "Was too far, and I was kind of distracted. Envy attacked me, and we fought." Edward rushed ahead. "Al was chained down, couldn't do anything. I – well – who gives a damn. The point is, Envy took his arm which had claws and shit on it and shoved it through my chest and I died."
Alfons had known it was coming, had heard Edw- Ed speak of it before, but it was different now. Whispers in the dark about Ed's death were less real than a public admission before the court. It was no longer their little story, their secret. It was a documented fact, and he had the brain damage to prove it.
Harris broke the silence, his voice still calm, incongruously so. "How can you know you died?"
"When you feel your heart stop," Edward rasped, "it's not the sort of thing you forget easily."
"And what happened next?"
"There was a white light all around me, and it didn't hurt anymore."
"Hell if I know. Got some blurry memories of random shit, then I woke up in Resembool blind, deaf, and dumb. And you say it's been four years."
Alfons… didn't like that. He didn't like that they were glossing over the time when Edward had been his, and that their relationship had supposedly began before Edward's disappearance. So many lies were still being told, and this was supposed to have been Edward's way to come clean…. But it was all for the best. Probably.
Roscoe, meanwhile, had leaped up at the mention of Edward's reappearance.
"Mr. Elric. Edward."
Ed looked at Harris wild-eyed, his hands gripping the stand before him tightly. Even so, he was holding together. Just a bit longer, Alfons thought.
"Tell me about your brother. Why did you turn him into a suit of armor?"
"It was a mistake!" Ed forced the words out, around his hitching breath. "I just – it went wrong, he was dying, I had to do something–! I was fucking eleven, I didn't think I was going to end up dead because of it!"
Alfons let out a breath. There it was, the plan in all its simplicity. Crazy and audacious and he could do nothing but pray with all his being that it would work.
"How are you still alive?" Harris asked, inexorable.
"I don't know." Ed slumped, sweat dripping down his face. "It couldn't've been proper Human Transmutation, I wouldn't have ended up like this. Wouldn't have left me with scars and holes and marks…"
Marked. The word stirred something in Alfons' memory, but he couldn't pin it down.
"How do you know?"
At that, Ed looked irritated. "I've done it, haven't I? You'd think I'd have a clue by now how it works. You transmute the body, you can't create a soul out of nothing. Who the fuck creates a damaged body?"
Harris turned to Roscoe, smiled, and said, "Your witness."
Roscoe immediately turned to the judges. "Your Honors, according to this story, there has been a clear instance of Human Transmutation in order to resurrect Mr. Elric."
Clearly prepared for this claim, Harris stepped forward. "Whether or not that is true, I ask that you consult the police report investigating the array Alphonse Elric was found using. Experts say that it could not possibly have been used for resurrection, as it is not an array for human transmutation, which certainly clears Alphonse Elric of such charges."
"Human transmutation charges should be investigated by the police. That is not the purpose of this court. Mr. Roscoe, please proceed," Justice Karelin said, his tone closing the matter.
Roscoe nodded and turned to Ed, though now his stance lost some of its previous certainty. Edward made an obvious attempt to straighten up, and mostly failed. Alfons clenched his fists in his lap and bit his lip, to keep from doing or saying something. Couldn't they see that Ed was in no shape to be cross-examined?
"Your Honors," Roscoe said, "perhaps we should call a recess?"
"No!" Ed burst out. "Can we just get this over with? I'm fine, okay? I'm fine." The judges exchanged a skeptical glance which Edward definitely saw, because he ran a hand through his hair and straightened up.
"It doesn't get any easier," he pleaded.
Anybody with eyes could see that Edward clearly wasn't fine. He was pale and clammy, and Alfons waited for the judges to-
"Very well," Justice Karelin said. "Proceed."
Morons, Alfons thought, and seethed. At least Roscoe wasn't being so blasé about it, and seemed hesitant to question Edward. What do you ask a person who says they died?
Nonetheless, Roscoe cleared his throat and began. "You say you entered the alleged city under Central searching for your brother. What made you think he was there?"
Edward looked surprised, and frowned. The tense line left his shoulders just a bit, as he contemplated his answer. Alfons thought about how long Edward had been telling him this story, how inevitable everything seemed with each telling, and wondered if he even remembered.
"Scar had cooperated with those chimeras for a while," Ed said finally. "He said they had a base under Central."
It sounded like bullshit, but nobody could prove it anyway. Roscoe looked uncertain, still off balance from Ed's previous revelation. The moment when he decided to hell with it was visible in the way he squared his shoulders and set his jaw.
"You say you died."
"Perhaps you were knocked unconscious?"
"I bled out from a hole in my chest." Edward smiled grimly, his tone taking on the slightly mocking lilt Alfons remembered from Germany. "I couldn't breathe, because he punctured a lung. I couldn't feel my legs. My heart spasmed and then stopped. I've been injured before, and I've been knocked unconscious more times than I can count. This wasn't it."
"So who brought you back?"
"I don't know," Ed responded, just a bit too quickly. Which was strange, since Alfons knew that this was actually sort of the truth, at least according to what Ed had always told him.
"You must have some idea…."
"I don't know," Ed snapped. "Whoever did it did a fucking lousy job, anyway!"
Both times, Alfons thought, remembering Al's botched attempt. He resisted the urge to glance at him.
"Objection," Harris said. "Mr. Elric has answered the question."
"Sustained," said Justice Castillo.
Gradual silence fell once again, and Roscoe shifted.
Justice Tsamis cleared his throat. "Mr. Roscoe?"
"Do you consider your transmutation of your brother into a suit of armor a successful Human Transmutation?"
What? Alfons exchanged a confused look with Winry. He had no idea what the question was trying to prove. Harris opened his mouth to object, but Edward was already answering.
"No," he said grimly. "It was a stopgap measure to try and save his life. I couldn't think of anything else to do, but it was a crappy solution. You can barely call it Human Transmutation anyway, I didn't even get around to transmuting a body."
"And your… revival? Is that an example of successful Human Transmutation?"
"It's… imperfect." Ed forced out the words. "I'm alive, but my body's a mess."
"And whoever restored your brother?"
Ed practically snarled his answer. "How can you call a transmutation that botched his memories successful?"
"So, in a sense," Roscoe gave the impression of thinking aloud, "you never actually quite succeeded in what you set out to do."
Seriously, what the hell. Alfons made confused motions at Winry, who waved her arms back at him in equal befuddlement. Was this even a cross-examination anymore? Why didn't somebody make it stop?
"I suppose not," Ed said. He looked down at his hands, his body slumped in exhaustion. "But we're both alive, right? That's more than I could have hoped for. It's more than most people in our situation got."
Roscoe straightened up and looked at the judges, businesslike once more. "No further questions," he said crisply. A murmur ran through the hall, as if everybody had woken up, remembered that they were still in the courtroom.
Winry raised her eyebrows at Alfons, who shook his head. If anything, Roscoe's questions had helped the defense – humanized Ed, emphasized the sadness of his story.
The judges conferred quietly for a few moments, while the room grew noisier and noisier. When he spoke, Justice Tsamis' voice cut through the sound like a knife, leaving silence.
"There are no further witnesses."
Papers were shuffled, and Alfons sat through a few minutes of legalese, biting his lip and watching Ed anxiously. He wondered if he could get him some hot chocolate, or maybe an orange because Ed looked like he could use one, and sighed at the panicked inanity of his own thoughts. Hopefully soon enough they would be able to give Edward whatever he wanted.
The words "closing statements" dragged his attention back to the court proceedings, and he forced his tired mind back to concentration. Some days he missed German so much it was like a physical ache.
Roscoe was first up, and somehow managed to project both firmness and compassion in his voice. A terrible crime had been committed, he said. The guilt was clear. Yes, it was a human and tragic story, but the purpose of the court was to uphold the law. All the empathy in the world couldn't avoid the fact that Human Transmutation was dangerous, was an abomination recognized by all of mankind. In a correct society, crimes must be punished-
"Breathe," Winry whispered. Alfons came back to himself to find that his teeth were clenched so hard they were giving him a headache. He nodded stiffly at her, and tried to relax a bit.
He wanted to punch Roscoe in the face.
Thankfully it was over quickly. Al probably wouldn't have been able to tolerate it much longer, anyway, judging from the way Mustang was gripping his arm.
"You can let go now," he heard Al mumble. "You're leaving fingerprints."
Then Harris stood up, and everybody fell silent. Harris took a moment to survey the room, unnaturally calm, and at that moment he looked nothing like Alfons' father. He was an utter stranger, who was nonetheless defending Ed.
"Your Honors. Ladies and gentlemen. As my esteemed colleague has said, there has been a crime committed. We do not deny it. Nor do we deny that the punishment for Human Transmutation is death. However, I ask this court, how many times does one man have to die until his sins are forgiven?"
Three, Alfons couldn't help but think, and had a silly urge to giggle.
"Edward Elric committed a terrible crime, and for that, he paid the price. You have seen the marks of his death scarred on his body, written in his brain, and heard him tell his story. Through some miracle, some twist of fate, he is still alive today. What meaning is there pursuing a punitive punishment? Life can be endlessly cruel, and punish a person for their mistakes forever, but this is a court of law. Here, one cannot be judged for the same crime twice. The punishment for Human Transmutation is death. Edward Elric has already died."
Harris sat down, and wiped his forehead with his handkerchief.
The gavel slammed down.
"We will reconvene in two weeks' time to deliver the verdict. Court is adjourned."