I wrote this one ages and ages ago, and then stopped. I waited around for possibly a year to get inspiration for finishing it up, but it doesn't want to finish. So finally I decided to forget it, post this (which works as a standalone) and muck with continuations later, because I like the thought behind this one. Thanks to Seventhdaughter who betaed it for me.
Feedback is always greatly appreciated.

Warnings: movie spoilers. big time. Some language. implied onesided Hei/Ed

Wrench in the Gears

"Alfons, there's something I need to talk to you about. It's about your work."

The German ignored his roommate, continued packing his clothes wordlessly. He knew that if he tried to argue the discussion would never end. Edward was capable of arguing for hours on end, or until he got his way; it was one of those characteristics that made Edward successful in academia and completely insufferable at the same time. He zipped the bag shut roughly and left the room. Edward, refusing to give up, followed him down the stairs, annoyance coloring his tone.

"They're trying to start a war with my world, Alfons, do you understand what that means? You have to stop building that rocket for them!" The uneven thunking of his mismatched feet on the stairs followed Alfons as he swung his bag over one shoulder, taking the stairs at a faster pace than Edward could match.

That was Edward, thought Alfons angrily. Self-righteous to the core. Where did Edward get the absolute gall to tell him to forget his life's work at a moment's notice?

"Are you even listening to me?!"

Always about you, isn't it? The thought was bitter. Your brother, your dreams, your world. You make me wonder if I even really exist, sometimes.

"Alfons!" A restraining hand caught his shoulder, and suddenly Alfons couldn't stand it anymore. With a strength born of anger he hadn't known he possessed, he lashed out with his fist.

Maybe it was because his prosthetic was not as good as his automail and Edward's footing was not quite so sure as it used to be, with the added danger of being on stairs. Maybe he simply had never conceived that his friend, whom he trusted in a completely irrational manner, would ever try to strike him.

Either way, Edward was caught completely by surprise when the blow connected solidly with the side of his face and sent him into the wall, head first. Momentarily stunned, he collapsed on the stairs, the back of his head hitting the corner of one of them.

"You shut up-" abruptly, Alfons couldn't breathe, as if he was drowning inside his own lungs. Overcome by a coughing fit, he didn't hear the sick thud of Edward's head hitting the stairs, his soft, surprised groan, or Noah's sound of dismay.

More blood on his hand. His time was running out. Alfons looked over at Edward one last time before preparing to run out, angry words already crowding to be said - but stopped short.

Edward lay on the stairs, looking half-unconscious. Noah knelt beside him, biting her lip, and Alfons felt a tendril of worry unfurl in his stomach. "Edward…?" He dropped the suitcase, and leaned over the smaller man. Edward didn't respond, his eyes half-lidded and unfocused.

God. Alfons dropped to his knees, carefully tilted Edward's face towards him, and waved his hand slowly in front of his eyes. The gold irises followed the movement, but sluggishly.

"Alfons?" Edward asked, "I see… little flashy lights… what…" He trailed off into silence.

Noah shook her head, and shot an accusing look at Alfons. "I think he has a concussion."

"I know," Alfons snapped angrily. He was angry with Noah for stating the obvious, angry with Edward for being such a jerk, angry with himself because he hadn't meant to hurt Edward like this.

He pulled Edward into a sitting position. Noah helped him, because Edward didn't seem quite clear on what they were trying to do, though he certainly didn't appreciate the jerking and tugging. Alfons probed the back of his head gently, and found slight swelling a little above his neck, where he had hit the stair.

"I don'… don' feel too good…" Edward mumbled. "Think I'm gonna be sick."

Alfons shook his head. Definitely a concussion. "Come on," he said to Noah. "Help me get him upstairs and to bed."

"Hmph." Noah projected disapproval with her entire body, but helped him nevertheless.

So nice to know that he was wanted in his own house. First Edward moves in and practically takes over the place, and now he welcomes Noah as a housemate, too? Should Alfons start doing their laundry to thank them for letting him stay?

They maneuvered Edward carefully, trying not to jolt him too much, occasionally murmuring encouraging words when he attempted to help, though said 'help' was more of a hindrance. Alfons pointedly ignored Noah, who kept shooting him accusatory glances. She certainly wasn't the keeper of his conscience, and he didn't need her to tell him when to feel bad about something! He had known Edward for a long time before she had shown up out of nowhere.

"I'll take care of him," Noah said. "You go to your job, or wherever it was you wanted to go."

How typical. Alfons didn't relinquish his grip on Edward. "Forget it. This is my fault." And my friend. He turned his attention to Edward. "Just a little more, Edward. We finished the stairs."

"Mmm, ok."

Alfons clenched his teeth. Finally, they got Edward to his bed and laid him down carefully.

Edward blinked hazily at them. "What happened?"

"Alfons," and here Noah shot him a particularly venomous glance, "hit you. You fell down the stairs."

Of course, Noah couldn't think of a nicer way to say it, Alfons thought sarcastically. If this episode hadn't cured him completely of violent tendencies, he might have been tempted to hit her.

Edward tried to digest it. "That's not… Alfons wouldn't hit me…"

Unable to stand Edward's hurt confusion, Alfons strode over to the kitchen to get some ice. It was terribly unfair. Edward had been acting like a real jerk, and truly deserved to be hit. He wasn't supposed to actually get hurt from it.

Alfons' movements were rather agitated as he wrapped the ice in a towel. Figured, with his luck, that this would be the one time when Edward lost his balance on those prosthetics of his, and on the stairs no less. God. Edward was crippled already. What if… what if… Alfons steeled himself and absolutely refused to pay any attention to the words 'brain damage' that rattled through his thoughts. It was just a light concussion, for goodness' sake.

He returned to the other room, firmly ignoring Noah. Sitting down next to Edward's prone form, he absently noted the bruise already forming on the left side of his face. "Turn your head," he instructed. "I brought some ice."

Edward complied, with a little help from Alfons, and the ice pack was pressed gently to the back of his head.

"Are you mad at me?" Edward wondered, sounding rather meek.

"Of course not," Alfons sighed.

"I'm seeing weird. You look fuzzy." Edward laughed slightly to cover his worry.

"It's just a concussion," Alfons dared to stroke his hair a little. "You'll be fine in no time."

Edward subsided after that, and never complained about the small touches. The German found himself wishing that it didn't take a concussion for Edward to let him this close. Really, his hair was so soft, even tangled the way it was, it was a crime not to play with it.

Looked like he wasn't going to make it to work tonight. He had a brief struggle with himself - his country, or his friend? Ultimately, and against his better judgment, Edward won out.

Maybe it was because Edward had fallen asleep, somehow managing to fist his left hand tightly in Alfons' shirt.

Eventually, Alfons fell asleep too. All that night, Noah paced outside the door, fuming, but unable to gain access to Edward's memories. The concussion would have kept her from a proper reading anyway, but now, with Alfons refusing to budge from his side…

Even if she tried, she wouldn't be able to reach him properly, with Alfons practically lying on top of him. Not for the first time she wondered as to the exact nature of their relationship. Really, it was indecent for two men to hold each other the way they were.

Hours passed. Outside, in the real world, a military coup was attempted - and crushed. Militants were jailed, and it was thought to be the end of the story. One gypsy psychic was forgotten in all the mess, and the project of Shambala was abandoned as a sad hoax.

Edward woke up disoriented. This was undeniably his bed, but he wasn't quite sure what Alfons was doing in it. There was an uncomfortable cold, wet spot behind him, Ed discovered as he shifted, which probably explained why he had scooted so close to Alfons during the night.

An attempt at movement awoke an uncomfortable dizziness, so Edward decided to stay put. He wondered absently if Noah was anywhere around, and hoped she wasn't. Maybe with her gone he could mend some of his relationship – such as it was - with Alfons. She had only added unnecessary strain, and really, she was a bit of a third wheel. Edward did not want to form too many attachments to this world, but Alfons was the exception. He was absolutely helpless in the clutches of his fascination with the German.

Alfons stirred, and woke up groggily. Edward smiled fondly; Alfons was never worth much before his morning coffee. He wasn't quite clear on yesterday's events yet, but he hoped Alfons was no longer angry with him.

The German blinked, his clear blue eyes widening at the unexpected position he found himself in. He shot upright and struggled to keep embarrassment from painting across his cheeks. It took him a full thirty seconds to remember where he was and why.

"How are you feeling?" he inquired, rubbing his eyes blearily.

"I'm a little dizzy." Edward made a half-hearted attempt to sit up, but Alfons pushed him back down.

"You stay right there."

Needless to say, Edward was not terribly taken with the prospect. "Look, I'm not going to keep lying down all day!"

Alfons ran a hand through his hair, attempting to straighten it. "So sit up. But stay right here, I'll bring you breakfast. You need rest."

"Oh, come on," Edward huffed. "I've been hurt much worse than this. Hell, I've fought with wounds worse than these!"

A severe look silenced him. "Not around me you haven't. I've seen no proof that you've ever done any backflips to evade sword strokes from an animated suit of armor with a stab wound in your shoulder or whatever."

"My side," Edward corrected.

"Same difference." Except, Alfons thought, he had seen the nasty scar on Edward's left side below his ribs. "Either way, you're going to take it easy today." Because this time, I was the one who hurt you. Leaving Edward staring after him in puzzlement, Alfons hurried off to the kitchen.

Barely a minute had passed before Edward was up, and staggering his way to the bathroom. He'd be damned if he'd let Alfons treat him like an absolute invalid, though having breakfast brought to him in bed did sound rather nice. He'd never been pampered like this before – well, maybe he had. The last time he had been brought breakfast in bed had been the last time he was hospitalized, hadn't it?

He barely made it back to bed before Alfons showed up with some toast. Bemusedly, Edward allowed himself to be manipulated, his pillows arranged against his back, and fingers prodding gently at the back of his head.

Eyes half closed and a rather foolish smile on his face, Edward wondered if it was the nature of head injuries to make people maudlin, or if Alfons had slipped him something last night. "I missed you," he said.

There was a short snort from the German. "Silly. I've been here the whole time." It's you that's been off, on your quest for your own world. "Now, eat your breakfast."

Edward accepted the plate thrust at him, and dutifully started eating. Really, the fussing reminded him so much of Al…

Alfons started at Edward's sharp intake of breath, immediately worried. Edward stared up at him, stricken.

"The Gate! They were going to open the Gate!" Immediately, he struggled to get up. It was probably too late to stop them. He had to find out what had happened!

Alfons would have none of this. "You can't do anything if you're hurt! You can't even see straight! How do you even think you're going to get there?" It's not real. That fantasy world you've dreamed up cannot be real. Why persist in breaking your own heart? Why can't you just leave it alone, for once, and live in reality?

The small hope was dispelled instantly by Edward's immediate response. "You're going to drive me." Golden eyes fixed on Alfons' own, and he knew he couldn't refuse.

When they had reached the outskirts of the city, Edward efficiently hotwired a car, his criminal mind apparently not overly affected by the concussion.

For that matter, Alfons hadn't been aware Edward possessed such a criminal bent in the first place.

Feeling trepidation (He was stealing a car. What would his mother say if she knew about this?) Alfons nonetheless climbed into the driver's seat and got them on the road. Edward's blithe assurances that they would return the car did not especially comfort him.

This time, there was no especial difficulty getting to the castle that had been the base of the Thule Society. The silence of abandonment hung over the place, and the engine, before Alfons killed it, echoed in the emptiness like the growl of a caged animal. Edward ran ahead, his dizziness forgotten. Alfons took a few steps before being overcome by a coughing fit; this time Edward didn't stop, and didn't turn back. Edward could only think ahead to his brother. Through the tears the acute pain in his chest brought to his eyes, Edward's form blurred before vanishing into the castle. Once, just once, he wished Edward would stop and turn back for him.

Alfons had no way of knowing how many people before him had watched Edward's retreating back and wished he would slow down.

Finding the room with the arrays was ridiculously easy. Bodies lay strewn in corners and bullet holes riddled the walls. The stench of decay and old blood hung about everything, and the ecstatic buzzing of flies echoed loudly.

Edward's footsteps slowed, and he steeled himself to step past the bodies. When had he gotten so used to turning a blind eye to death? They had nothing to do with his objective, and there was nothing he could do for them. It was easy to dismiss them at this point, to try to erase their existence from his consciousness. A small, sick part of his mind whispered that they deserved what they got for trying to invade his world.

At the center of the room, the array was still intact, though besmeared by blood and interrupted by corpses. None of those should bother its function, the cold part of Edward's mind whispered.

He tiptoed to the center of the array and there he paused, looking up at the far-off ceiling. Halfway up hung a massive dead snake, with what looked like another body clutched in its jaws. Envy. The death, the silence, was beginning to get to him; this place could not possibly be a source of hope of any kind. Edward steeled himself against the sinking feeling of failure and pressed his hands against the array, willing with all his being for it to activate.

His determination was not even rewarded by a single spark of a reaction. The array was as dead as the snake above him, impaled on spears of humanity's arrogance.

The last doorway leading home shut with a resounding slam.

Edward refused to accept that. All he could wonder was 'what now?' This could not be the end. There had to be something he hadn't yet tried, something-

Blood, he suddenly thought feverishly. His blood might do the trick. Lacking any sort of sharp implement, he unhesitatingly sunk his teeth into his wrist. It didn't yield much, but there was enough to rub onto the array.

Blue sparks crackled along the lines, and Edward pressed his hands against it, his entire being focused on one thing – opening the damn Gate. It didn't work the same as alchemy back home, but he knew the principles had to work…sending the commands through his fingertips, manipulating the power inside his body, making the array respond to his will…the array was perfect, he was sure of that. He had drawn it himself.

But now, there was no homunculus to sacrifice, and nobody opening the door from the other side. It was just Edward, one small human attempting a science that should – could - never work in the world he was in.

He could pretend he was happy. He could claim that just the knowledge that Al was restored and safe was enough for him. He could say he needed nothing more, ever.

But when it came right down to it, deep inside of him there had lived a small spark of hope that absolutely believed he must find his way home someday. His whole being cried out for just one more glimpse of the sky above Amestris, for one last time gazing upon the fields about Risembool. Just to hear Amestrian the way it should be spoken, and not the accented bastardization of this world. It was better to just think of the place and not the people, so many people he loved whom he would never see again-

"I never got to say goodbye," he whispered, and the whisper echoed in the room like thunder. Hands shaking, he slumped and finally rolled onto his back on the array, not caring that he was smudging the useless lines. He raised his fake arm to the distant ceiling in parody, as if reaching for the sun. Dull clicking and sluggish movements; he would never again know the wholeness of automail. In this world, without his limbs and without his alchemy, he was truly crippled.

The ceiling above him was terribly far away, so far that it was starting to blur in front of his eyes. It didn't look so bad this way, the ugly lines of death and decay blurred by tears. He imagined somebody finding this place, years from now, a tomb to one boy who just wanted to go home.

A chance had been handed to him; one opportunity, one small window through which he might glimpse his brother and his home again. Yet a simple fall down some stairs had destroyed it.

Coughing echoed through the room, and Edward sat up, realizing that Alfons was still there.

Oh. Of course.

Everything comes at a price; it would seem that this was retribution for the tiny shred of happiness he found that morning.

The coughing intensified, and Edward found himself wishing Alfons would just go away, just leave him alone here, not disturb his – it couldn't be called peace, no, but whatever it was, this was his moment. Go away, go away-

Abruptly furious, Edward turned his gaze on Alfons, letting the feeling that had been building up inside of him out in the form of words he had never thought to hear himself utter. "This is your fault." It was a relief saying it, letting out the poison, blaming someone else. For once, he could allow himself this luxury. "This is all your fault!"

Alfons stopped short, stung to the heart. He could twist the blame any way he wanted, really, but he had been the one to strike Edward. Now…Edward sat hunched on the chalk circle, sobbing harshly in a way that Alfons had never thought to see.

He suddenly realized that Edward's world may have been nothing but a fantasy, but it was a fantasy Edward needed in order to exist. Even if it had never been real, had only been Edward's imagination –what purpose exactly the stories served he wasn't quite sure- but it was cruel of him to deprive Edward of the hope of returning 'home' someday.

Cautiously, he moved closer to his friend and finally knelt down next to him. Edward's furious golden eyes, now blurred with tears, stared up at him, and he lashed out with his fist. Alfons caught the blow easily, and pulled the arm to his chest. "Isn't hitting what got us into this mess in the first place?" he said softly. Edward hissed and struggled, but Alfons still managed to restrain him and pull the seething blond to his chest. "I'm sorry," he whispered, holding Edward tightly. Edward stiffened in surprise, momentarily forgetting to struggle. The anger gave way easily to misery once again, but this time Edward clung to Alfons; there was nobody else.

"I…I'm never going to see my brother again…" Edward closed his eyes and clenched his fists, unable to deny the truth any longer.

Utterly helpless. There was nothing Alfons could do for Edward; he knew he was unwanted. The only one Edward wanted was his brother-

"I'll be your brother," Alfons suddenly blurted out, hardly believing what he himself was saying.

"Huh?" Edward's head snapped up, nearly catching him on the chin.

The German gently put one hand on Edward's head, guiding it to the crook of his neck. "I can be your brother," he said softly. "Brother…" He said the word in English, attempting to mimic Edward's strange accent. He tried to pitch his voice lighter, more youthful.

"Al…?" The tone was hesitant, still unconvinced.

"You'll have to tell me everything again," Alfons said. It was so easy, so insidiously easy to pretend like this. "I don't remember anything, remember?"

The snapping of the thread's of sanity in Edward's mind was almost audible. The offer of comfort, familiarity, an alternative to continuing his lonely existence tempted him more than it should have. He had nothing left to lose any more, and even a replacement was better than nothing.

Giving in to the illusion, Edward relaxed in his arms, breath coming heavily.

"Al," Edward murmured, indecisiveness evident in his voice. "…Al…phonse…" he tasted the word, changing the emphasis on Alfons' name to make it sound more like its Amestrian counterpart.

Through a tight throat Alfons responded, "I'm right here," he gulped, "Brother."

Edward abruptly squeezed him, and looked up with a wavering grin. "Al!"

Alfons brushed away Edward's tears and did his best to smile gamely back. He knew, intellectually, that being Edward's 'brother' was probably the closest another human being could come to the mysterious blond.

Yet he also knew that now, any hope of having anything more was lost irrevocably.