For a while now, I've been wanting to do a fic about when Ed and Al
are grown up. I like the thought that Ed would probably look a lot
like Hohenheim, with a beard and a long ponytail. I was originally
expecting this fic to be rather short (two or three pages at most),
but as I wrote it just kept getting longer and longer. I guess I had
a bunch of ideas to get out at once. This is not intended to be Elricest, nor is there really much of any pairings at all (some married EdWin and a hint at married Royai), so you can forget about that. Enjoy, and please review!
"Daddy, I'm done!"
"Ah! Let's see now... Good job, Nina! You're getting better!"
"What about mine, Daddy? Isn't mine good too?"
"Oh, Trisha, it's magnificent. I don't think I could have done it better myself."
Alphonse Elric smiled to himself as he heard Trisha's pleased laughter. He looked up from his book to watch the three people several hundred yards away from the tree under which he sat. Al's older brother, Edward, was kneeling in the bare patch of dirt with his daughters, Nina and Trisha, one hand on each of their shoulders. The family resemblance between the three of them was remarkable; both girls had hair the same rich golden hue as their father's, and there was the same determined look in their eyes, the same stubborn set of their chins, the same triumphant smiles that graced their faces at this moment.
"Well, girls, you ready to start?" Ed asked briskly, standing up and brushing his knees off.
"Yeah!" Nina cried.
"Okay!" Trisha echoed.
"On the count of three, then! One..." Nina knelt down next to her transmutation circle, her golden eyes hardening with concentration. "Two..." Trisha dropped down in front of her circle, the same look mirrored on her face and in her sky-blue eyes. "Three!"
At the same moment, both sisters slammed their hands, palms down, onto their transmutation circles. White-blue lightning flashed about them momentarily, turning them into stark silhouettes. Al couldn't see what they had transmuted, but when the light faded away both girls let out identical crows of delight. "We did it, Daddy!" they both yelled, tackling their father to the ground in a wild hug. Ed came down laughing, as outwardly pleased with the result of their transmutation as if he had done it himself.
Al watched with an absent smile as his brother began to tickle his daughters. Shrieks of hysterical laughter bounced about the hills, till it sounded as if an entire legion of Elrics were being tortured. Displays like this were quite common in the Elric home, however, so Al soon returned to his book. After a while, he found that he had been staring at the same word for several minutes without even reading it. The word was 'equal,' he saw, but instead of reading on he closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the trunk of the tree, letting out a sigh. He could hear his brother explaining some point to his daughters, now serious once more.
Opening his eyes again, Al looked across to the three of them. They were getting to their feet, gathering up the various books, papers, and measuring instruments that were strewn about, and Trisha was scuffing out the transmutation circles with her bare feet. When they were ready to head back, Nina called out, "Race you home, Trish!" and set off at a gallop.
"Hey, wait up!" Trisha called out, pounding after her older sister. But her arms were full of heavy alchemy books, and she couldn't run as fast as Nina.
Ed trotted up to Trisha's side and swept her up onto his shoulders, tearing after Nina. Nina looked up as Ed drew alongside her, and with a laugh began to run harder. The three of them reached the door at the same time, all of them panting and laughing, and collapsed onto the porch.
But Al felt far from laughing. He wasn't sure what it was, but ever since he had come back to Risenpool with his brother he had felt awkward. Maybe it was simply that he felt he was intruding on the little family Ed had put together. They made a perfect family - Ed and Winry, with their three beautiful daughters. But where did Al fit in? He was just the little brother, the uncle. The outcast, he added viciously to himself. Perhaps he should have insisted on staying in Central when Ed had made him come back.
Originally, Al had been grateful that his brother would include him in the family. But ever since they had come back, after the first few days of being happy they were in their childhood home, Al had begun to feel despondent. He didn't even know why, but he felt sadder than he should have in the crisp, stunningly beautiful autumn days. Was it because he woke up in a room all alone every morning? Always before, he had shared a room with his brother, but now that Ed was married such an idea was absurd.
Al sighed and stuck a paper into his book to save his place, setting it down on top of his other papers so the wind wouldn't blow them away. He couldn't concentrate any more, so he decided to take a walk. He noted the rough bark of the tree as he pushed himself to his feet, and watched his brother go inside the house with his daughters. Al came to a stop as suddenly as if his head had hit an invisible tree branch. "That's why..." he whispered aloud, realization coursing through him, burning him, electrifying him. That unshakable feeling of restlessness mingled with loneliness...that constricted feeling that came to his throat sometimes when he watched Ed playing happily with his daughters...it was jealousy.
"Nonsense!" he muttered to himself, straightening up and clutching a low-hanging branch of the tree for support. "Why would I be jealous of Brother?" He had always respected his older brother, and acknowledged that his own skills would always be inferior to those of his brother's. It had never been a problem with him, either; after all, Ed's greater alchemic skill had given Al back his body, and now Al was a State Alchemist as well. They were as close to being equals as they could get.
But Al shook his head absently. He wasn't jealous of his brother's skill or accomplishments. He had no reason to be. It was something else...but what? Al sighed, thrust his hands into his pockets, and began to walk slowly down the hill. He looked at the two houses as he walked: a yellow house and a white house, so close they almost touched. Ed had been the one to propose rebuilding the Elric house, but Al had been thinking it all along.
"Hey, Al," Ed murmured as they stood by the few remains of their home. "Let's rebuild our house."
Ed tipped back his head to look at the stars that filled the sky above them. "I'm going to be starting a family of my own soon. My children will never know their grandparents... They'll never know what a wonderful person Mom was. The most I have to give them are my memories and this house where we grew up. So...I want to rebuild our house, Al, exactly the way it used to be." He lowered his head to look his little brother in the eye. "Will you help me?"
"Of course I will, Brother. I was reluctant to burn it in the first place."
"You were?! I never knew that!"
Al turned his head sharply away from the houses and trudged on down the hill. He and his brother had gathered all the proper materials, put them in a pile next to the Rockbell house, and transmuted it all into a perfect replica of their old house. They had argued for a long time over where to put it - Ed had wanted it in the same place as the last one, so he and Winry could move in as soon as it was built. But Winry had insisted on raising her children in the house she had grown up in, so Al had suggested a compromise: they would rebuild the Elric house right next to the Rockbells', and live in both at once. Ed had laughed at this at first, but the idea had stuck, and that was where they had rebuilt their home.
Of course, that had been a long time ago, before Ed and Winry had even married. Years had passed since then, and now Ed and Winry's family was complete. Al knew the five of them were very happy. Nina and Trisha, now nine and eight respectively, were following enthusiastically in their father's footsteps, progressing in their alchemy lessons almost alarmingly. Sara, the youngest, was still a baby, but Winry had high hopes for her carrying on the Rockbell automail legacy. Al supposed Winry had been a little disgruntled at how Ed had infected their other daughters with alchemy so early, and had decided to infect Sara the same way, only with mechanics. Al smiled a little; it was so funny just to watch the two of them sometimes.
Was that what Al was jealous of - a family? True, one time long, long ago when he and his brother had been children, they had fought over who was going to marry Winry. Ed had lost that fight, but then several years ago he had married Winry anyway. Al wasn't jealous or angry about that. He had discovered a long time ago that the love he felt for Winry was of a completely different kind - more like the love he felt for his brother. Winry had always been a sister in his mind, not the intimate companion she was to Ed, and nothing had changed about that since she had married his brother.
Maybe he was jealous of his brother's children. He wouldn't mind having some children of his own, he supposed. There was something very desirable in the pride that lit up Ed's eyes when he looked down at his daughters, something that tugged at his heart when Nina and Trisha came running to Daddy for one final hug before bed. He wanted to be able to tuck children of his own into bed, to tell them bedtime stories, to wake up in the middle of the night and chase away the monsters in the closet. Of course, to do so he would have to first find a woman who understood him in the deep core of his heart, and there was no one in his life that fit that description yet. Besides, he told himself reasonably, the best substitute for being a father is being an uncle, and that's what I am.
Al found himself at the side of the river; his feet had taken him unconsciously to his favorite place - the place where he could sit and think, undisturbed. He knew his brother had made this place off-limits to his children for that very purpose, and he was grateful. Winry never came here either, so he was sure of having this spot to himself. He sat down at the water's edge, drawing his knees up under his chin, the same way he had ever since he was a child. With a sigh, his thoughts returned to his predicament. What was he jealous of? What more did his brother have that he, Al, did not?
But suddenly he was struck with a different idea: What if Ed wasn't the one he was jealous of? What if...What if he was jealous of the others? Winry, Nina, Trisha, and Sara? Al's eyes widened and he caught his breath, staring at the water rushing past him without seeing it. Yes. Yes. It fit. He was jealous of them all, because of the attention his brother gave them.
Al gritted his teeth, his chest burning with that jealousy, and at the same time guilt swamped him, clinging to his lungs like molten metal, a horrible guilt for feeling such a stupid thing. The times Ed could come here and be with his family were rare; how could he begrudge their time together? But even as he thought this, he realized it wasn't just Winry and the girls. This feeling of discontent had begun before they had even come to Risenpool, and it had simply flared up when they had arrived. That dark, hot feeling had been there, small and unnoticed, but still present, with the two of them in Central for the past year or so.
"Brother?" Al called out as he paced the halls of Central Military Headquarters. "Man, where could he have got to?"
"Alphonse?" said a familiar voice. "Is that you?"
"Oh!" Al came to a halt, grinning and saluting. "General Mustang!"
"Good morning," Liza Mustang replied, saluting him as well. A smile softened her stern features. "You're here early. Have you come to see the Fuhrer?"
"Actually," Al said, his smile dropping into a frown, "I'm looking for my brother. You haven't seen him, by any chance?"
"What?" Mustang's eyebrows lifted in surprise. "Didn't he already leave?"
"Leave? Leave for where?"
"West City. On the Fuhrer's orders. I thought for sure the two of you would be going together."
"No..." Al murmured in confusion, looking away from her. "He didn't say anything..."
Al realized he was chewing on the sleeve of his coat, and stopped. He sniffed at the red cloth, smelling a faint trace of the soap Winry used to wash all their clothes. It smelled a little like lemons, he thought. Lemons and wet stone... He closed his eyes, burying himself in that comforting scent that always made him think of the Rockbell home.
"I was thinking. Maybe sometime we could do something together, just the two of us. Like we used to-"
The phone suddenly began to ring. "I'll get it!" Ed cried, leaping towards it as though he had been looking forward to this moment all day - and he probably had. "Hey, Win," he said. "How's it going?"
Al sighed and returned to his research notes as Ed said, "Of course I'm coming! It's our anniversary, isn't it?" He paused as Winry said something, then said, "No, I think Al's got some things planned over the weekend. But you'll see him at Christmas."
Al picked up his notes and left the room. He never told his brother that he spent the following weekend bored to tears.
Suddenly Al's sensitive ears pricked up. It was amazing how much he could hear with real ears of flesh and blood. He heard familiar footsteps coming up the other side of the hill. Every other step had a slightly different sound, as though the person was walking with a limp, or one leg was a little bit heavier than the other. Al knew those footsteps all too well, and suddenly he didn't think he could stand it if his brother found him here. Before his brother could reach the crest of the hill, Al leapt to his feet and ran away.
Ed descended the hill towards his brother's favorite spot, hands in pockets, watching a lone wispy cloud drift lazily across the orange-rimmed sky. But when he neared the bottom of the hill, he turned his gaze downward, to the little hollow Al always sat in. Ed's feet came to a stop and the little smile on his lips slipped off, for the hollow was empty. Ed scratched his head in confusion. "Now where could he have gone? I thought for sure he'd be..."
His voice trailed away as he noticed something marring the bare, soft earth by the side of the river. He frowned, looking over the circles - seven of them, to be exact. But then he gasped, taking a step back, a look of horror and consternation in his eyes. For these transmutation circles were intended for human transmutation.
Ed hurried back home, but when he saw Al's coat hanging up in the hall, his fears were assuaged. Stupid to worry, really, he told himself as he pulled off his own coat and hung it up next to his little brother's. Al's way too smart to do anything like that. He's probably just researching something. Still, he couldn't shake off an uneasy feeling. What if Nina or Trisha had stumbled upon those circles? They hadn't reached the level of human transmutation, so they wouldn't recognize what they were for. And those girls were so curious they might have tried the circles out just to see what they did. He had no idea what might happen then, but the dangers were too many for someone sensible like Al to leave those circles right out in the open. He found that he was very glad he had made that place off-limits to the children.
Ed tried to shrug off his worries. If he had learned one thing, it was that worrying never stopped what was going to happen. All the same, he felt a certain degree of relief when he entered the living room to find Nina and Trisha playing in the corner and Al sitting on the couch, reading. And Al continued to act normal at the dinner table as well. Though he didn't say much, he laughed with everyone and seemed to listen to what people said. Since he had a way with babies, he was feeding Sara. There was nothing to back Ed's vague concerns, nothing to suggest anything was out of the ordinary. Still, those transmutation circles seemed etched into his eyeballs, and he could not easily forget them.
As soon as the main part of the meal was through, Al got to his feet. "Wait!" Winry said. "I made an apple pie; don't you want some?" Everyone knew that Al's favorite food was Winry's apple pie.
"Well..." Al hesitated, then reluctantly said, "Maybe I'll take a piece with me to the study."
Ed watched his brother leave with his pie, and frowned. Not wishing to let his worries rub off on anyone else, though, he shrugged and said with a grin, "I'd like to sample a bit of that pie too, if you don't mind."
Later, after the dishes were washed and the girls had been tucked in, Ed decided to poke his head into the study to see what his brother was up to. Living in two houses at once made things a little interesting; they tended to cook and eat in the Rockbell house, while they slept in the Elrics'. The workshop and washroom were in the Rockbell house, so they tended to stay there during the day, while the Elric house had a more cozy, evening sort of atmosphere. Hohenheim's old study also happened to be in the Elric house, and the two brothers used it for their own research. Ed hadn't actually done much researching or experimenting since he had come back, but he wasn't disappointed. Spending time with his family was more important anyway.
As he paused outside the closed door to the study, he realized that Al had spent an unnatural amount of time in there lately - even for an enthusiastic alchemist such as he. Ed sighed, knocked once to announce his presence, and entered. To his surprise, Al wasn't even there. Papers covered with his handwriting cluttered the desk, and several scrunched-up papers littered the floor, but otherwise the room was empty. "Strange," Ed muttered, crossing over to see what Al had been researching.
What he saw troubled him even more. It was human transmutation, all right. There was a list of elements, not as extensive as that for a complete human body, but he could tell just by glancing at them that they could make human flesh. Ed picked up another page of his little brother's notes and saw the sketch of a transmutation circle - less extravagant than the one they had used to unintentionally make a Homunculus, but still rather complicated, and still for human transmutation. He thought he recognized it from the circles drawn in the dirt by the river.
Ed sank into the chair at the desk and continued to look through Al's notes. Everything he saw troubled him more and more: 'Ingredients will make; but to attach?'...'might trigger Gate; must have backup'...'does Brother have to be with me?' Under this last note was a scribble that looked like vehemently crossed-out writing, but Ed couldn't tell what it said. He pulled out another piece of paper and dropped the rest on top of the stack. Across the top was written: 'Remember! Right arm. Left leg. Don't mess that up, Alphonse!' Underneath that was a rough sketch of two stick-figures. One leg and one arm of one of the figures were circled, and arrows were drawn to the corresponding limbs of the second figure. And underneath this was a list of supplies, such as 'Bandages,' 'Extra material in case of failure,' and 'Letter in case of absolute failure.'
Ed found that his hands were shaking. This was what his brother had been doing all this time! He was secretly trying to give his older brother an arm and leg made of flesh...by sacrificing his own. The page fluttered out of his hands onto the floor, and his eyes stared, unfocused, at the words, 'satisfies equivalent trade' written along the edge. He clenched his fists on his knees. "How could he...?" Ed shot to his feet, the chair clattering to the floor. But by the time he heard the sound, he was already out the door. Naturally, he was so preoccupied that he didn't notice the large suit of armor was missing from its usual place in the corner.
When Ed saw the dark form by the riverside, he let out a sigh of relief and slowed his pace. Rather than kneeling next to one of the large circles, Al was sitting in his customary spot, knees drawn up under chin. But Ed suddenly realized the outline of his little brother was much too big. Too broad in the shoulder, too...too pointy. Al had heard him coming, and stood up. The outline of Ed's childhood nightmares rose up noisily before him, and turned to face him. His breath, already short from running all the way here, caught in his chest. He wanted to clutch something so he wouldn't fall down, but there was nothing nearby. "Al..." he whispered hoarsely. "You didn't..."
"Brother..." came the voice he knew so well, echoing around the steel prison of the helmet. "I wanted to remember...what it was like to have this as my body. To look out at the world, but not be able to touch it. And now I'm big enough that it's not strange to have a body this size." Al reached up and pulled off the spiked helmet.
Ed felt relief such as he had not felt since the day he had brought back Al's body. The emotion was so powerful that Ed felt his legs give way, and he sat down on the grassy bank. "Al..." he whispered again, but his tone was much different now. "You didn't..."
"Sometimes," Al said mildly, acting as though he hadn't heard, "I wonder why Dad had this armor. Still, I'm glad he did. It gave me a second chance at life. A second chance to live with my brother." With many a clank and clatter, he sat down as well.
Ed was still trembling; he felt giddy and faint. "Al," he said, wanting to laugh and cry at the same time, "what do you think you've been doing lately?"
"Hmm?" Al's expression was far away.
"I looked at your notes," Ed pressed. "You're going to sacrifice your right arm and left leg so I can have them, aren't you?" Al didn't respond. "Well?!"
"Lately..." Al said in a half-whisper. "I've felt cold...distant...like I used to, when I didn't have a body. I wanted to see if it was really that different, so I went into the armor again."
"And was it different?" Ed asked, seeing he would have to progress at his brother's speed, or they would never get anywhere.
"Yes," Al said, sounding surprised. "Now I can feel how heavy the armor is...how stifling it is inside the helmet. But when I touch you..." Al reached out a gauntleted hand towards him, but stopped short. "There's still the same barrier between you and me." He clenched his hand into a fist and turned away from his brother again. "I wonder who invented armor like this. Did they think it would protect the wearer? Because it doesn't. Your body doesn't hurt, but your heart aches fit to burst."
"Al...is that the way you feel?"
Al jumped with a clank and looked over as though he had just now realized Ed was there. "Yes," he said at last.
Al creaked as his body stiffened; it was impossible to move quietly in that armor. "Don't you have something you need to do? Get Trisha a glass of water or something?"
Al's bitter words hit him like a hand slapped across his face. "Is...Is that what I've been doing?"
"Really, it's okay," Al said softly, but his voice was still bitter. "You have a family to run, after all. I shouldn't get in the way."
"Don't be stupid, Al! You're my family too! As close as any of them, closer even!"
"Is that true, or are you just trying to make me feel better?"
Ed leapt to his feet. "Al, who could ever know me as well as you do? You're my brother, for crying out loud! You understand me in a way not even Winry ever will. There's something about being brothers that's different from any other relationship." His face hardened. "And here I am, acting as if you're not even here most of the time. We haven't spent time together, just the two of us, since who knows when. I've made you feel horrible, and guilty, and desperate enough to try to get my arm and leg back - when I would have told you immediately that I'd rather have automail. I'm sorry, Al, and I love you, and...will you ever forgive me?"
Al sat looking up at him, but when he got to his feet, he towered over his older brother. "Of course I will, Brother."
Even as Ed grinned, he felt tears stinging his eyes. Maybe it was because of the immense fear and relief he had experienced, or maybe becoming a father had turned him into a total sap. Whichever was the case, he found he had to wipe his eyes before he looked at his brother again. "Hey, Al... 'To train the mind, one must first train the body.' Shall we?"
For the first time in months, Al smiled - a real smile, the smile that made his entire soul shine out for all to see. He nodded eagerly and put his helmet back on again. Except for the absence of glowing red eyes, he looked just as he had at the age of fourteen.
"Are you sure you'll be able to beat me in all that armor?" Ed asked with a smirk. Maybe he would finally be able to defeat his little brother.
"I won't lose to someone shorter than me," Al replied teasingly.
Ed cracked the knuckles of his left hand. "You'll regret saying that!"
The two brothers charged towards each other, metal limbs crashing into each other. Ed flipped and twirled, using his extra agility to his advantage. Al, encased in a body of steel, threw as much weight as he could into his attacks. They were equals, matched in their skills. They could hardly have been more alike if they had been twins.
Winry, hearing the clangs and metallic rings, poked her head out the front door. When she saw the two of them sparring in the moonlight, she smiled. It was just like the old days, when Ed would come for repairs and start banging about as soon as his arm was fixed. Still smiling, she crossed over to the Rockbell house to get out the proper tools. Something told her Ed might need a tune-up in the morning.
The Elric brothers sparred far into the night, till sweat glistened off their steaming bodies and their breath came out in wheezes. The rift between them was healed, and they were the close kin they had always been. Metal, jealousy, and human transmutation cannot stand long between two brothers. Needless to say, Al destroyed his notes next morning.