Disclaimer: I do not own Fullmetal Alchemist
It would have been all too appropriate for the day to be grey, drizzly, biting-cold and heavy with the fog of pollution and misery. It would have made sense for the clouds to be unwieldy and thick with rain and thunder. It would have been fitting for booted feet to splash through puddles, shiny-slick on greasy cobbles, for the city to be a muted sea of dark overcoats and upturned collars, the populace anonymous beneath pulled-down hats and the black shade of umbrellas.
As it was, the sky was cloudy, but Munich's cold was a crisp, refreshing cold today, a lively breeze pirouetting through streets, teasing coat hems and hairstyles, and whilst the streetgoers weren't exactly smiling, there was nonetheless a vaguely contented air over the people.
Well, most of the people.
Head down, hands in pockets, shoulders hunched by some invisible weight, there was one figure who moved as though through winter snow, gloved hands clasped around the handles of two small battered suitcases. His pace was swift, and he seemed to cut through the crowd, working against the meandering organic current rather than occupying it. Something in the rhythm of his walk, something in his wary avoidance of eye contact marked him as different, yet he blended seamlessly with the faceless majority. A stranger, casually observing him from afar, might remark upon his unconventionally long blond hair, or upon fleeting glimpses of exotic golden eyes, but would be otherwise hard-pressed to describe the handsome young man, who moved with a curious, stilted gait and who did not seem to fully inhabit the space around him, uneasy and restless in his manner and demeanour.
The Fullmetal Alchemist was going home, or as close to home as he could get on a world that was not his own.
Edward Elric was not depressed- he was too irate to be depressed. On a lesser being, however, 'depression' might have been an accurate medical diagnosis. Two years of life without his little brother, without knowledge of whether Al was even alive, two years without alchemy…it had aged him, matured him beyond the scant few inches of height he had gained. The bright brand of his anger, that had kept him burning fast and furious for so long, was beginning to waver in strength.
He made his morose way through Munich, streets that were now familiar to him, mentally running over the fruitless trip he was returning from. The professor he'd travelled to consult was, it had turned out, something of a lunatic fake, an apocalyptic prophet of the kind Ed had little enough time for on his own world, let alone here. He hadn't seriously been hoping for any sort of epiphany, long bitter experience warned him against such hope, but the complete failure of the venture felt somewhat like a homunculus' kick to the teeth. Which left him, yet again, with the agonisingly-slow crawl of university study as his only creditable lead on a way to escape this world. Rocketry was such a long shot that Ed occasionally wondered why he tortured himself with any hope at all, but there was more than one thing tying him to his study…
The blond halted at the end of his street, ignoring the brief instances of human contact as the meandering crowds brushed past him. Despite himself, he felt a tiny flicker of warmth glow in his chest, a faint recognition of the downtrodden little borough that he had inhabited long enough to tentatively call his territory (not 'home', never 'home', his home lay across the stars, miles and miles, or maybe just a heartbeat or a handclap away). Familiar faces smiled, or didn't, as they entered his field of vision, and he made half-hearted attempts to acknowledge them- just because he didn't necessarily believe they were genuine, didn't mean he had any right to be impolite. Sensei would have flipped shit.
A friendly pat to the shoulder broke him out of his daze. He turned, lizard-quick, and relaxed as he took in the familiar, uniformed body of Officer Hughes. The policeman touched the brim of his helmet in playful salute.
"Ah, the triumphant return! Welcome home, Edward! Do you bring exotic secrets and mysterious knowledge from the distant lands to which you have intrepidly journeyed?"
Ed raised an eyebrow. Hughes laughed. "I'll take that as a 'no'?"
"It was an interesting trip," Ed shrugged, setting off down the road, not caring whether the man followed him (which he did).
"But not a fulfilling one."
"Not exactly. I'd have been better off staying here for the week and stealing Heiderich's lecture doodles to supplement my research."
As a second bark of carefree laughter barrelled from the rambunctious Hughes, Ed allowed his lips to twist into a brief, wry smile. It was easy to forget, sometimes, that this wasn't the Amestrian military man who'd taken him under his wing when he first arrived in the big city. The aching symmetry of this world was a constant, broken-glass reminder of everything he missed, inducing a queasy, jarring sort of homesickness- a little piece of something familiar, just different enough to make his heart ache when it was offered to him.
"I'm sorry to hear you weren't successful," Hughes was saying, "but it is good to have you back- Gracia has been worried."
"Oh? And how exactly would you know that, Officer Hughes?"
The man stumbled and stammered, a red flush rising in his cheeks. "Well…er…er, gossip, you know how these little districts are rife with it…um…"
Ed grinned, a full, proper, shark's grin. "Hmm," he hummed, wicked in his obvious disbelief.
Hughes harrumphed and tugged at his cuffs. Ed shook his head. The man was hopeless. How had the Lieutenant Colonel in his world ever managed to get anywhere with his wife, if he'd been like this?
They had drawn level with Gracia's flower shop whilst they talked. Ed's back throbbed as the thought of dumping his suitcases and sleeping for a week wrapped sinuous arms around his brain, and he stepped forwards in a blissful daze, gleefully remembering the soft comfort of his bed, when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw something that stopped him in his tracks, as effective as a heart attack.
Bad enough that this world mocked him with familiar voices, familiar faces. Bad enough that his life's quest was fulfilled in a stranger who wore his brother's body with grace and ease, a boy who'd never thought anything of growing into his flesh and feeling the sun on his skin, a boy Ed wanted to hate, sometimes, until he smiled Al's beautiful smile…
Bad enough that the arrays in his mind faded, flickered with every breath. With every spark of rocketry knowledge, another alchemical truth slipped silent from his mind.
Bad enough that he woke, screaming sometimes, to the scent of blood and melting iron.
It was all bad enough without this. The sight of a rounded face, slanted black eyes and a mess of spiky black hair, broad shoulders and a charming smirk.