For NewMoonFlicker – constant friend, eternal muse


I will not stand and wait for life to come

I will live what I am dreaming of

- "What I'm Dreaming Of" by Trading Yesterday


All he could hear was his little brother crying. All he could see was the name etched into stone. All he could feel was the gaping hole in his chest where his mother, his comfort, his life, had been. He was vaguely aware of the breeze lifting the hair off his scalp, the crickets chirping in the trees at the edge of the cemetery, his own shadow lengthening at his side. The world continued around him, neither knowing nor caring that nothing would ever look the same to this child of ten.

Gradually he became aware that his little brother was speaking. "Brother...I'm hungry.... And I'm cold, too. How are we gonna do this? How are we gonna live without her?"

Clenching his fists, he listened to that plaintive little voice quavering in the empty air. They needed a mother. They needed their mother. "We're not, Al," he murmured. "We're going to bring her back."


Edward Elric grimaced and clutched his right shoulder. His automail always became painful this time of year. He peered out the window, and sure enough, dark clouds billowed in the distance, rumbling ominously. Heaving a gusty sigh, he returned to the sofa and tried to focus on his report again. Unfortunately, a summary of government supplies sent to the State Alchemist division of Southern HQ could never be terribly riveting, even with that guy embezzling funds to support his own fishy experiments. Edward dropped his pen and massaged his shoulder again, not like that helped much when it was made entirely of unyielding metal.

"It's hurting again?" Alphonse sat down next to him, holding two mugs of tea.

"'Course," Edward grumbled, taking the tea his little brother held out to him and sipping it. "Rain's given me hell for the past eight years; why wouldn't it now?"

"I wish we could do something about it," Alphonse said quietly, staring into his own mug. That was as close as he ever came to saying what he had given up saying two years ago: There must be something we could do to get your body back, Brother. He had realized that was never going to happen. It was miraculous enough they'd gotten Alphonse's body back. Neither of them wanted to push it.

As they drank their tea in silence, Edward looked at the metal fingers curled around his mug. The sign of his mistake, carried around with him everywhere he went, embedded into his very identity. It was fitting that he kept his automail. He needed that constant reminder of what had happened when he acted on desperation and arrogance. Hopefully he would never make such a mistake again.

"Hey, Al," he spoke up, breaking the companionable silence. "What do you think would have happened…if none of this had ever happened? I mean, what if we never lost our bodies? What if we never tried to bring Mom back? Where do you think we'd be now?"

Alphonse gazed contemplatively into his half-empty mug, as if hoping to read the answer in the glop of wet leaves at the bottom. "I don't know," he said after a minute, laughing a little. "It all happened when we were so young…. I know I wanted to be an alchemist, but beyond that…."

Edward nodded in agreement. "I never really got a chance to figure out what I wanted, either. I never got the chance to…you know, to just be a kid and have a full childhood, figure out who I was, what I wanted to do with my life.… I became who I had to be, or who I thought I had to be. I grew up all at once and pursued all sorts of other dreams – like…becoming a State Alchemist, or…or searching for the Philosopher's Stone – all except for the dream I guess I must have had before Dad left and Mom died, the dream that was all mine, that wasn't built on all these mistakes and pain and loss, something that must have been happy and fulfilling. But I can't remember what it was."

It was only when he looked up that Edward realized Alphonse had gripped his arm and was looking at him with that familiar, concerned expression. "Brother…why didn't you say something about this sooner?"

Edward smiled sadly, then winced as his shoulder throbbed again. "Because there's nothing you or anybody else can do about it. And don't you dare say it's your fault I'm not who I might have been. My own mistakes brought me here. I don't regret what I had to do to make things right. It was what I needed to do then, but...what happened to that dream? I know who I am now, with the choices and mistakes I've made, all the things that changed me from who I was when I was a kid. But what am I beyond what I've done? Who would I be, if I'd never decided to do human transmutation, if I'd never lost you, if I'd never had to find the Philosopher's Stone? I don't know anymore. I lost it a long time ago.…"

"I know who you'd be." Alphonse ducked under Edward's arm and clasped the metal hand, the lingering reminder of all they'd given up for each other. "You'd be my brother."


All he could hear was his little brother crying. All he could see was the name etched into stone. All he could feel was the gaping hole in his chest where his mother, his comfort, his life, had been. He was vaguely aware of the breeze lifting the hair off his scalp, the crickets chirping in the trees at the edge of the cemetery, his own shadow lengthening at his side. The world continued around him, neither knowing nor caring that nothing would ever look the same to this child of ten.

Gradually he became aware that his little brother was speaking. "Brother...I'm hungry.... And I'm cold, too. How are we gonna do this? How are we gonna live without her?"

Clenching his fists, he listened to that plaintive little voice quavering in the empty air. They needed to move on like the rest of the world. Life would not stop even though their mother was dead. The flow of the world would keep rushing on, and if they kept standing still they would only be drowned. "We're going to live somehow, Al," he murmured. "It's going to be hard, but we'll take care of each other, okay? We're all we've got now."


Edward Elric sighed and crossed out yet another convoluted equation with his red pen. Really, some of these kids seemed to have no idea what logic was. Whoever had taught them math in elementary school must have flunked themselves; there was no way you could end up with more grams of copper than you'd started with, and make the saltpeter just mysteriously disappear. They all seemed to forget that just because alchemy was complicated didn't mean they could throw common sense out the window.

Rubbing his itching eyes, Edward looked out the window at the gloomy sky. It always seemed to be overcast this time of year, and it got depressing at times. Especially when he had nothing but shouting at dunces to look forward to the next day. Sometimes he wished he'd pursued his own private research like Alphonse. But then he'd look around at his class, at the young men and women scribbling away furiously and chewing their pencils to bits over their transmutation circles. He'd watch their faces light up when they came to him with their latest creation, or some new discovery they thought they'd found, and even when their equations were wrong or they'd calculated the atomic number incorrectly and it wasn't a new element…he could see reflected in their eyes the passion that had led him here in the first place. And he would feel proud, as though these were his children.

The sound of the front door closing snapped Edward out of his reverie. The vacant smile slipped away and he returned to the paper he was supposed to be grading. He only looked up when he felt the sofa sag next to him, and watched Alphonse lean back with a sigh. "Long day?" he asked.

Alphonse groaned in response. "I still can't figure out why my theory works with invertebrates, but as soon as I try to defuse rodents, it's all a mess."

"There must be something about mammals you're overlooking," Edward suggested, absently scrawling a note to his student that they needed to be more careful about which way their triangles were pointing. It did make a difference.

Alphonse let out his breath in a puff. "I've looked at everything! And if I can't fix simple chimeras, how am I ever going to help those poor people?"

Edward's heart sank, and he suddenly found that he couldn't focus on the homework anymore. "How's Nina doing?"

Alphonse looked away and said in a firmly level voice, "Declining. I don't think she's got much longer. Anna's still crying for her mother, and Robert hasn't said a word in days. I'm starting to worry about him."

Edward watched the side of Alphonse's deceptively calm face. This research was hard on his little brother. Having all these mangled half-human, half-animal chimeras brought to him, comforting them as best he could, assuring them he would make them normal again, then watching them waste away while he stood there helpless…. It would be enough to make anyone despair. No one had ever been able to successfully separate chimeras. But Alphonse pressed on. He saw a need, and he knew his own abilities, so no amount of failure was about to make him stop. Not even when he cried out in the night for the children he hadn't been able to save.

Edward looked back down at the transmutation circle that would create a doll, and he felt sick to his stomach. In a moment of clarity, he could see their lives stretching away into the future, continuing in this vein. Long days spent at the university or the lab, students who came and went with only occasional talent, failed experiments sadly cleared away. The pointless monotony of it all weighed down any flare of hope or interest he had in alchemy.

"Hey, Al," he said softly, running his pen through his fingers. "What do you think would have happened…if we'd tried to bring Mom back? What if we'd succeeded, had a mother, grown up whole and happy? Do you think our lives would be different now?"

They had given up their mother all those years ago. They'd taken the taboo on human transmutation seriously, though Edward had always harbored a secret hope that they might have found a way to make it work. But they had accepted that their mother was never coming back, and they'd had to raise themselves. They'd managed it, somehow. They'd learned how to care for themselves, and when they grew older they'd pursued their dreams, gotten through life by sheer determination. But maybe they wouldn't have had to, if they'd had a mother. Maybe they'd have been normal children.

"We might not have succeeded," Alphonse said in a low voice. "It might have turned out all wrong, and we'd be worse off than ever. We might have died trying to bring her back."

"Yeah. We took care of each other, so I guess we turned out okay."

"You took care of me more than I took care of you." To Edward's surprise, a weary tear trembled on Alphonse's eyelashes. His face was drained, exhausted by the long day of failure and discouragement. "You had to grow up all at once. When I didn't know what to do…you were there for me. You had to become my mom and dad, besides being my older brother. You were always working hard, or comforting me; you always seemed to know how to move forward while I just stood in place. Even now…you've got a good job. You're not just teaching those students alchemy; you're teaching them how to live their lives…while all I can do is fail."

"Don't say that." Edward set his papers aside and slung his arm a little awkwardly around his little brother's shoulders. "The only reason I kept going was because of you, silly. If I hadn't had you to take care of, I probably wouldn't have lasted out the week. But I knew I had to stick around and take care of you. And don't make out like your work is less important than mine. I just teach kids about Equivalent Trade; you're saving lives."

Alphonse rubbed the back of his hand across his nose and looked up at his brother. "Yeah?"

"Yeah." Edward smiled and fondly ruffled his little brother's hair. "Stupid."


Author's Note: This is a thank-you fic for my good friend NewMoonFlicker, who drew me the most amazing FMA fanart I think I've ever seen. I would've drawn something for her in return, but since I have no ability whatsoever and no patience to gain any, I decided I would have to write something instead. Working from a prompt she gave me, I decided to write about what would have become of the brothers if they had never performed human transmutation. In the first section, I incorporated the prompt into Ed's words, but for both of them I kind of just started writing and waited to see what would happen. I think Ed's voice is a little off (as usual, eh Raskol?), but I did my best. I hope you liked it!