A.N. I was going to have this first chapter be a oneshot, but then I remembered how much I hate cliffhanger oneshots. In other words, add this to your Story Alerts! It's a multi-chapter story, but I'm not sure how long it will take me to finish, since the next month or so will be fairly busy. I'm hoping posting the first chapter will inspire me to quit procrastinating.
Chapter One - Imposter
Ed sprinted down the dark hallway of the abandoned apartment building, following the sounds of fighting in the distance. The clash of steel on claws made him run faster, his breath coming in sharp gasps.
"Alphonse?!" he cried.
Ed put on an extra burst of speed, ignoring the stitch in his side. How long had he been running? It seemed like no matter where he went in this maze he never came any closer to Al and the homunculus he was fighting. But at least they were still fighting...
Sudden silence made Ed slow down and stop, heart thumping in terror. "Al?" he called tentatively.
Behind him, a hallway he had just passed lit up with a brilliant blue-white light. Ed ran back to the hallway's entrance and the light nearly blinded him before the hallway grew dark once more, leaving him with spots dancing across his vision.
"Alphonse!" Ed yelled and took off down the hallway, heedless of his own safety. All that mattered was finding Al. Seconds later, he arrived in a huge room, probably a storage room, filled with crates and boxes. Ed began searching every nook and cranny, still calling out for his brother.
Ed was halfway across the room when he found something that made him drop to his knees in defeat.
"No," Ed moaned, taking in the bits of torn metal around him nearly unrecognizable as Al's armor. "Oh God, no…"
"Al?" Ed yelped, hope returning to him. He scrambled around frantically in search of Al's blood-seal. As long as that was intact he could put the armor together, bring Al back…
"Ed, I'm here."
Ed turned toward the voice and for a single second he thought he was dreaming. That or lost his mind in the aftermath of losing Al. Either way, what he was seeing was impossible.
But when he stumbled over to the naked child curled up in the center of an enormous transmutation circle, the hallucination didn't vanish. When Ed reached out to touch his cheek, the skin was warm, alive. And his face…
"Al?" Ed whispered.
Alphonse smiled up at him, a smile Ed hadn't seen in years, and two tears trailed from his eyes. "It's me."
Ed knelt down and gripped one of his bare shoulders tightly with his automail hand, his other still occupied with exploring Al's face. It wasn't a dream. It wasn't his mind playing tricks. It was ten-year-old Al. His lungs were breathing, his heart beating, his whole body looking as healthy and alive as if he hadn't spent four years away from it.
"How did this happen?" Ed choked, still gripping Al tightly as though terrified he would vanish somehow.
"I don't know," Al said in a hushed voice. "I just woke up like this…I don't even remember what we were doing here…"
"Fighting a homunculus," Ed said absentmindedly. "Found out they were holding another alchemist hostage and came to help, but…I don't know how…"
Ed broke off and for a long moment his eyes remained fixed on Al's. Then he dropped his gaze and rested his forehead against Al's shoulder, trying to control himself. How long had it been since he wanted to cry so badly?
"Ed?" Al asked, sounding worried. "Are you alright?"
"Fine," Ed said thickly. A hitched sob escaped him and Ed decided then that it didn't matter if he cried in front of his brother. If this wasn't an occasion for tears of joy then he didn't know what was.
Ed looked up, unable to hold back a smile at the familiar, yet foreign sight of Al's real face. "I'm just…this is so sudden and…"
Al nodded in understanding and without further ado leaned forward and wrapped his arms around Ed's waist. Ed hugged him right back and broke down completely, squeezing him so tightly he was surprised Al could still breathe.
"Al," Ed said huskily, forcing the words out between his sobs. "I'm so happy right now…you have no idea…"
"I know," Al whispered. "I'm happy too."
Al ascended the stairs cautiously, silently cursing the fact that the suit of armor had such loud footsteps. Any nearby homunculus would hear him coming a mile away. But he couldn't turn back--he couldn't do anything except go wherever they were leading him and Al had to admit that he was getting extremely worried.
There had to be a reason for this, for separating him from Ed and leading him up here. Right in the middle of his fight with Lust in the storage room, another homunculus had appeared where Al had thought she was the only one. Wrath's transmutation had blinded even his nonexistent eyes and before he knew it the floor beneath him had opened up like a gigantic mouth and swallowed him. Al had fallen to the lower floor and landed hard in a dark hallway. Before he could so much as twitch, the ceiling had closed off and a wall had blocked off one part of the hallway, leaving him with only one way to go since he had lost his chalk in the fall.
But if Al was worried about his own safety, then he was deathly afraid for Ed. His older brother had been on his way, following Al's calls until Wrath separated them. Had they done it so they could try and get to Ed first before coming to finish Al?
But Ed was a strong fighter and a stronger alchemist. He could beat Lust and Wrath easily…
Al sped up.
The stairs ended in a wooden door that was cracked open. Al hesitated, knowing somehow that beyond this door he would find the reason he had been led him away from Ed…the reason Wrath and Lust hadn't taken the opportunity to kill him…
Al pushed open the door and scanned the room.
"Ed!" Al cried, spotting his brother standing by a window. Ed turned toward him and smiled lightly.
"Brother, I was so worried about you!" Al said. He strode across the room then stopped when Ed held up a hand.
"Guess what Al?" Ed said with a cocky grin. "I learned how to do alchemy without clapping!"
"Wh-what…?" Al faltered.
Ed held up his automail hand and a second later his entire arm morphed into a metal spike of its own accord. Al recoiled when he realized that there had not been a single spark of alchemy involved in the transformation.
"You're…you're Envy…" Al whispered with a hint of despair.
Envy frowned, giving a perfect imitation of Ed's childish pout when he was put out about something. "Aw, come on, Al! I thought you'd be more impressed!"
"Where's my brother?" Al demanded. "Tell me!"
The Ed-look-a-like rolled his eyes and jerked his thumb back to the window. "Out there, you happy? Honestly, you're such a baby sometimes!"
Ignoring him, Al moved quickly to the window. Keeping one eye on Envy, he peeked outside. They were on the very top floor of the abandoned apartment building. Down below, Al had a clear view of the building's courtyard and the scum-filled fountain in the center. Beyond the twisted remains of the iron gate Ed had transmuted apart was a busy road.
Disappointment pricked at Al's conscience. Not only was there no Ed, but there was also no sign of any military cars either. Before they came here, Al had made Ed call the military headquarters and leave a message for Colonel Mustang, informing him of what was going on. He had hoped help would have arrived by now…
Al turned back to Envy, who was studiously cleaning his nails with the metal spike on his arm. Al resisted the urge to snap at the homunculus to change his form.
"I don't see anything," Al said slowly.
Envy gave him an exasperated look. "Well he's not there yet, but trust me he'll be walking out the door soon."
"Brother wouldn't just leave me here," Al said angrily.
Envy smirked widely, his transformed eyes fixed on the courtyard. "You sure about that, little brother?"
Feeling a strange foreboding, Al once more turned to look out the window. There was Ed! He emerged from the apartment building and began traversing the courtyard, moving slowly because he was carrying someone that was wrapped up in his coat. It looked like a child.
"Is that…the alchemist you were holding hostage…?" Al guessed uncertainly.
Envy burst into laughter. "Oh my God, I knew you were gullible, but this is hilarious! There never was an alchemist! This whole thing was such an obvious trap that I'm shocked you fell for it! Both of you!"
Al kept his eyes on Ed. "But…then why did…?"
"Look at the kid's face," Envy said maliciously, "unless you've been in that scrap heap for so long that you don't remember your own reflection."
Startled, Al leaned closer to the window. It couldn't be…it wasn't possible…
A military car pulled up in the street then and a group of people in military uniforms jumped out. Al recognized Colonel Roy Mustang and Lieutenant Riza Hawkeye right away, but the others were strangers. The soldiers moved into the courtyard and Ed stopped and waved a hand at them. Roy and Riza both approached Ed and Al registered looks of astonishment on their faces.
Then Ed turned slightly and Al finally caught a look at the one Ed was carrying. Dark gold hair, a rounded face, a wide smile…there was no doubt anymore…
"It's…that's…" Al stammered.
"Yep," Envy said cheerfully.
Al pressed his hand to the window.
"…it's not me," Al murmured. "It's not…"
Al pounded the window suddenly, screaming, "Brother, wait! Wait, that's not me! Brother, that's not me!"
But Ed couldn't hear him. No one could. And Al couldn't hear them either, but he could see Ed speaking excitedly with Roy, accepting a quick hug from Riza. He could see the not-Al, the imposter talking to his older brother as if he knew him.
And Al could see the happiness in Ed's expression when he turned to answer. Ed's arms were wrapped protectively around that little bundle of red, pink and dark gold like he would never let go. Al was startled when Ed reached up with one hand and rubbed his eyes, wiping away tears.
A horribly empty ache grew inside Al as he watched the scene before him. It was a scene he and Ed had long envisioned for themselves--the moment they got their bodies back, the joy and tears it would bring, all things they would do once they were whole again. And now, Al was helpless to do anything except watch his brother bask in that moment without him. A moment that should have been theirs and theirs alone!
He was locked outside of it, just as he was locked in his armor…
Al drew back his fist to smash the window, but behind him there was the sound of an alchemic reaction and chains materialized around his wrists and ankles.
"We can't have that, now can we?"
Al slumped down against the wall, unable to keep his balance, and glared fiercely at the new arrivals. Lust crossed her arms and watched him with a bored expression while Wrath plopped down on the floor and grinned at him cruelly. Envy leaned casually against the wall, still in Ed's form.
"Brother will figure it out," Al said, hating how shaky his voice sounded. "You can't fool him forever. Whoever, whatever that child is, Ed will know the difference!"
"Not in time to do anything about saving you, I'm afraid," Lust said calmly. "Besides, he's far too ecstatic to notice much of anything at the moment. And that 'child' as you called him isn't all that bad an actor."
"He's not me!" Al snapped. "Ed knows me, he'll find out once the excitement wears off--!"
"Which will be when?" Envy spat, putting a suddenly harsh look on Ed's face. "Your brother just got the one thing he's been trying to get for the past four years. He's got his baby brother in the flesh. Do you think he cares about anything else? He's already walked right out of here without trying to figure out how he got his brother back or even where the homunculi and their hostage are!"
"He's happy," Lust murmured. "As far as he knows, your long journey is at an end. What do you think his reaction would be if you walked in and informed him otherwise? How devastating to learn that he must begin anew after the burden of returning you to normal was taken from his shoulders."
"He's got his human brother," Wrath put in. "Why would he want a clunky suit of armor back?"
By this time, Al had dropped his gaze to the floor, unable to maintain eye contact with the homunculi. Try as he might to deny them, the words cut him straight to the core. And Al couldn't seem to stop his mind from considering the scenario of revealing this mistake to Ed. He could already see Ed's expression--shock turning into anger at being tricked, then would come the stream of apologies, the guilt over not figuring it out sooner, the depression of returning to a hopeless quest hidden behind a host of fake smiles and easy lies…
Lethargically, Al turned his gaze back to the window, though from his position he could no longer see the courtyard. Had Ed and the fake Al left already? Had everyone piled into the military cars and simply driven away? The thought of being left behind with these monsters--abandoned, forgotten--made him feel incredibly lonely.
"He has to find out sometime," Al whispered. "He has to…"
"Who says he does?" Envy asked quietly, coloring Ed's voice with certainty. "The pipsqueak has what he wants and, unlike us, that brat has no problems pretending to be a human being. He's even ok with pretending to be Alphonse Elric for the rest of his life as long as he gets to live like a normal kid."
"We, however," Lust said, "still have our own desires to be human. And Edward isn't the best candidate for the job since he hesitated to make a Philosopher's Stone even with your life on the line."
The penny dropped.
"That's it then," Al breathed. "You want me to make the Stone for you. And you set this whole thing up so no one would come after me."
"Clever boy," Lust commended.
Al sat in absolute silence for a moment. Then he buried his head in his hands. Remembering his older brother with the other Alphonse, holding him, smiling at him, Al felt a sick wave of jealousy sweep through him. But that emotion was short-lived, swiftly being replaced by black despair.
Brother…you can't leave me here…you can't…