Disclaimer- I do not own Fullmetal Alchemist
Long ago, in a land far, far away, these things happened.
The ancient kingdom of Amestris sprawled rolling green and lazy beneath a cheerful, charming sun. It was a peaceful and prosperous land, ruled by a King who was unstinting in his labours, and guarded from multifarious monstrous creatures by a veritable phalanx of armoured knights and wily mages. Its people were merry sorts on the whole, given more to laughter and song than frowns and shouting. From the sturdiest castle to the ricketiest farmstead, from the most fertile fields to the richest planes, Amestris was a beautiful kingdom.
And yet…behind every fairy-story façade is a pointy-faced puppet master, a dwarf who spins straw into tax-free gold or a hunch-backed crone distributing apples to gullible young women. For every Knight there is a Dragon, for every Wizard there is a Sorceror, because fables are a matter of balance, fairer than any marketplace scales, and without shadow, one would never appreciate the true beauty of light. Life is not so simple as Black and White, but the Grey stories fade and falter like a sputtering candle flame buried in ashes, so it is chessboard stories of Good and Evil that continue to whisper in human memory. The tallest tales are held up by the tallest towers, the heights of fantasy soar furthest from the backs of winged, fire-breathing beasts, and without swords and blood and flame, there would be no happily ever after.
So even in this perfect storybook land, a Knight and his Princess were separated and a White Mage and a Black Sorcerer became locked in a conflict that was something like the old, old stories. And that is to say nothing of the Dragon.
The aimless, sky-tripping flight of a lone crow spiralled, through air that smelt faintly of fables, over the leafy green canopy of a verdant belt of forest. Thick and lush, flourishing ancient and lusty in fertile, rain-rich soil, trees as old as time stood their collective vigil over the land that had always been theirs. Life rustled and chattered through branches and over tree roots, a baffling myriad of wildlife. Undisturbed by human habitation, the mighty woods swayed with the breezes of the world, echoing its resonances through gnarled bark and whispering leaves. Its quiet was organic- that is to say, not very quiet at all.
And yet, even this pretence at silence was ruptured by voice, the voices of the first human voyagers through the forest in nearly fifty years.
"Come on, don't be stingy, please?"
"I'll shut up for the whole journey, I swear I will, you won't hear another peep out of me, I'll seal my mouth closed and oil your armour and groom your horse, just please?"
"GODDAMNIT, WHEN THE HELL DID YOU TURN INTO SUCH A JACKASS? IS YOUR HELMET TOO DAMN SMALL THAT YOUR BRAIN STAVRED OF OXYGEN AND DIED? WHAT HAPPENED TO RESPECTING YOUR ELDERS?"
The Knight gave a weary sigh. "I think you mean 'respecting your betters', Brother."
Sheer rage held his travelling companion in a spluttering, flailing incompetence for half a minute, then the Mage's staff began to glow white with energy. "What did you say?" the spellcaster hissed, his long blond hair making an amusing attempt to stand on end, though the sheer weight of it meant that simply made him look like an angry, fluffed-up kitten.
Armoured gauntlets clinked as the Knight patted his horse's neck, soothing the beast though it had grown long accustomed to such outbursts. "We've been through this a hundred times," Sir Alphonse of Elric patiently explained. "Over such a long distance, Kitty can carry either the baggage or the two of us. Since the bags are incapable of walking and we need them to survive, you're just going to have to keep your legs moving."
His older brother pouted in a way that was most unbecoming of a Mage of the Quicksilver Order. "Bet I could make them walk."
"Yes, and we all remember the time you enchanted the tent so very thoroughly that it wandered off whilst we were sleeping in it. No, Brother, you are going to walk and Kitty is going to carry. The End."
Edward of Elric, the illustrious (hoping one day to be 'the legendary') Fullmetal Mage kicked savagely at a rock lying in his way, then stumbled over a protruding tree root in a fine example of cosmic karma. "Stupid horse has a dumb name anyway."
Alphonse sighed again, reaching up to lower his visor a little- dealing with his tempestuous older brother was beginning to give him a headache. He, too, was exhausted by their day of travel, but the amount of ground they had managed to cover was heartening. "You realise that we wouldn't have to have set off before dawn if you hadn't set the innkeeper on fire?"
The quick temper flared. "If he didn't want to be roasted, he should have kept his stupid-ass remarks to himself!" the Mage snarled. "Who was he calling so small he could swim in a pint glass?"
"No one, Brother, he only wanted to know whether you required a stool to reach the bar comfortably."
"He was still an asshole. And I stopped the fire as quick as I could, didn't I?"
"By turning his entire stock of ale into water and flooding the inn with it?"
A shrug. "It worked. I don't know why he was so upset, that stuff tastes of piss anyway."
Alphonse wondered if perhaps the Order had been a little hasty in granting his brother a 'sane and licensed to practise magic' certification.
A low grunt signalled that Edward was going to give him the silent treatment, as punishment for his insubordination. Alphonse didn't particularly mind- the quiet would make a pleasant change, and Edward's anger was never self-sustaining enough to overcome his boredom for long. His mind was eternally restless, the price he paid for his genius, and in truth he was ill-suited for a life of endless, monotonous travel and brief episodes of excitement. It was only the promise of a seriously dangerous quest that could wrest him from the libraries of the capitol city and the excitement of his magical study. Plus, at home there were always willing idiots for Edward to practice his magic against. Alphonse was beginning to consider whether the so-called 'duelling' that his big brother engaged in was a result of academic curiosity, as Edward liked to describe it, or a ridiculous wizardly game of one-upmanship, instigated by Edward himself goading his potential competitors into senseless fury.
At least it kept him occupied. An unoccupied Fullmetal Mage was a far more terrifying prospect.
This point was hammered home when the staff was extended towards him again, this time with a speculative, rather than threatening, air. "Al," Edward began, carefully, "do you think if I concentrated really, really hard, I could change your armour into a dress?"
Alphonse yelped, scrambling to get out of his brother's reach as fast as he could without letting go of Kitty's reins. "No!" he squeaked, fully aware that Edward was completely capable of the task, with or without Alphonse's compliance.
Raucous laughter erupted from the wizard. The Knight huffed at him, his large grey eyes, usually light with joy when they beheld his beloved brother, narrowed in irritation. "That was mean."
"And hilarious! Oh, your face!" Edward was now doubled up, clutching weakly at his stomach, his face bright red. His voice tailed off into further laughter.
Alphonse snapped his visor down to hide a smile. It wouldn't do to let his brother's sheer, childlike enjoyment drag him out of a promising sulk. "If I didn't like you so much, I'd stab you," he told the other, only half in jest.
"Hah, I'd like to see you get close enough, iron-arse! I could melt that sword right out of your hand before it was halfway out the scabbard!"
"Hm, but not before I'd used it to turn your pointy stick into splinters. We're a bit low on firewood, actually…"
"Don't you even dare."
For a few paces, the only sound that could be heard was the clopping of Kitty's hooves.
"I wouldn't ever really change your armour into a dress."
"You need it to keep all your squishy bits protected when you're off being noble and slaying foul beasts and saving peasant villages."
"I appreciate your concern for my squishy bits," Alphonse responded, dryly. "Besides…the Princess made me this," he muttered, flushing bright red beneath his helmet.
His brother quieted at that. "Yeah." After a pause, he reached out to clap his hand against the shiny breastplate. "Yeah, she did…Wouldn't want her to kill me with her anvil if she found out I messed with it."
It was Edward's way of apologising- you had to listen to the tone, not the words, and attribute as much meaning as possible to the gesture. Alphonse patted Kitty, choosing not to respond to his brother. After nineteen years, they had a near-perfect understanding of each other.
The rest of the day passed in companionable quiet. That is, until Edward contrived to fall into a pond. His little brother chose to keep walking- after inflicting some sort of deadly revenge upon the tree root that tripped him, the Mage would find a way to catch up.
Nightfall found the travellers pitching their tent in a sheltered glade, working by the light of a small fire built by Alphonse and lit by Edward. As the former unburdened and fed Kitty, he listened, with concealed humour, to the latter attempting to tackle the tent. Unfortunately, the summer was waning towards autumn and steadily decreasing nocturnal temperatures meant that it was just too cold to sleep without some sort of cover. Edward had been forbidden from any canvas-related wizardry since the walking tent incident, so now he was left to battle against the fiendish thing with just his hands and his wits.
Or half-wits, Alphonse thought, uncharitably, as Edward cursed for the eighth time and fixed the white material with a baleful glare.
"Brother!" he called, hoping to prevent a tantrum. "Could you give me a hand with-?"
Before he had the chance to finish, Edward was already at his back, reaching up to undo the various straps and buckles that trapped Alphonse in his, admittedly lighter than combat gear but still heavy, travelling armour. The younger sighed, happily. He was well-used to the weight, but that didn't stop its eventual removal being something of a relief. The unavoidable clatter of each piece shifting into place sounded loud in the quiet, juxtaposed against the eternal, restless rustle of the forest.
"You shouldn't wear this all day," Edward scowled into his taller brother's back, "You'll do yourself an injury."
So like him to scold when he was concerned. "If I didn't have it on, I wouldn't be accustomed to it. There's no point wearing huge sheets of metal to protect yourself if you can't do any fighting once it's on," Alphonse responded, mildly. "And if we got ambushed, it's not like the violent, psychotic criminals would grant me the courtesy of getting kitted up."
A snort, quickly muffled, sounded behind him. Shrugging gauntlets and vambraces off his hands and arms, the Knight eventually slid the back-and-breast place off his shoulders, which he rotated a couple of times to loosen them. "Thanks, Brother."
Edward grunted. "Yeah, yeah, just get the rest of it off so you can help me with this thrice-blasted contraption."
As he wandered back to the pitching area, Alphonse hurried to free himself of the chain mail over his breeches before the shorter man crippled himself on a tent peg.
Later, tent tamed and dinner eaten, the brothers lay comfortably side by side next to the fire, staring up at the inky blackness of the night sky. Food mellowed Edward, making him drowsy, open and gregarious. Away from the city, the older Elric would become entranced by the stars and in that sort of mood, he would happily point out constellations to his little brother for hours and explain what they meant, what significance they had for practitioners of arcane arts, all their myths and legends. It was these evenings that made the brothers acutely aware of what they missed when one was travelling alone whilst the other remained behind. With the chill of nightfall, the two travellers would press closer together for warmth, and Alphonse would find himself transported back to the glowing, glorious days of childhood, when he and his brother shared adventures and woes alike in the safe, protective bubble of their family home.
Of course, that was before…
Alphonse shivered unconsciously and reached out to take his brother's hand. Edward accepted the gesture without interrupting the soothing flow of his speech, and his thumb began a familiar, gentle stroking across the back of Alphonse's larger, stronger hand. They were both adults now, but that didn't mean the Knight took any less comfort from the reassurance of his older brother, or that either of them were embarrassed by innocent, affectionate contact.
Under the stars, they were no longer Knight and Mage, Trollslayer and Fullmetal One- just brother and brother, Edward and Alphonse.
Edward finished his incomprehensible explanation with the satisfied air of one who has just concluded a very successful debate. His grip on Alphonse's hand tightened momentarily, then he released it to sit up and scratch muzzily at his braided blond hair.
"Should I brush that for you?"
"Nah." A gloved hand waved off Alphonse's suggestion, airily. "'m kinda tired, Al, you okay for me to go to sleep?"
"Of course. You finished the protective circle when I was making dinner?"
"Uh-huh. Only a very determined earthquake could break through it." A huge, jaw-cracking yawn interrupted what Edward had been about to say, and he grinned sheepishly down at his little brother before hoisting himself up. "Night."
"Good night, brother. Sleep well."