Tracks South

Paninya squeezed his hand, and Alphonse thought he was never so happy to have someone beside him. Traveling in a big group was hard – people took note of that. A couple traveling together, though, they weren't quite as noticeable. It had been his plan to head north, splitting up from Edward and Winry, and meet up with them in about ten days. It wasn't his fault that an Amestrian dissenter had blown up the train tracks, and it took almost a week for the tracks to be repaired. The materials had to be brought in, and the men, too, to repair the tracks, while the passengers made do with staying on the train, and buying foodstuffs from the nearby farm folk, who were making out well from this issue.

The worst thing was, Alphonse could've repaired the tracks in a few minutes – but since the Ishbalan Civil War Trials, all alchemists were considered suspect, and if he even mentioned alchemy, it was likely he and Paninya would've been hauled back to Central City.

Overhead, the sun beat down. Paninya, far more accustomed to the heat than Alphonse was, watched the men straining over the train tracks. Tugging the hat he wore down closer over his eyes, Alphonse itched to do something, anything, to hurry the repairs along. He wished he could get his head around what had happened in his country. Even though he'd witnessed the execution of alchemists who'd participated in the Ishbalan Civil War, he still couldn't understand it. He remembered sinking to the ground as the rifles were raised and pointed at Colonel Mustang, who refused a blindfold, staring his shooters down. He remembered hearing the next day that First Lieutenant Hawkeye had committed suicide. He remembered the way that Major Armstrong had warned them that they should leave Amestris, now, quickly, telling them that his sister, Fuhrer Olivier Mille Armstrong, was taking no chances with alchemists who'd had any part in the overthrow of Fuhrer King Bradley – even those who'd fought at her side.

"Al," Paninya whispered, her grip on his hand tightening.

He barely heard her voice, too lost in his memories. How the hell had this happened? How had his world been spun so off its axis? Would he and his brother be hunted down next, even though they'd never been a part of the Ishbalan Civil War? What about Dr. Marcoh? Had he managed to get back into hiding, or was a hunt on for him, too? Why would anyone think it was a good idea to punish an entire group of people for something that had only happened because a few of them were following the orders given to them by others?

"Well!" The voice startled Alphonse, enough that he glanced around in surprise, recognizing one of their fellow travelers, a man who reminded him a lot more than he was comfortable with of Major Kimbley. "It seems we'll be able to resume our journey soon." He nodded toward the tracks, and the men who were slapping each other's backs in congratulations.

A weary cheer broke out from the travelers, and the engineer shouted, his voice booming out his delight. "Track's been fixed! Everyone, back on the train!"

It wouldn't be that fast, Alphonse knew; the engine would need to be stoked, and that would take time, but at least it wouldn't be an all day thing. The stokers were already raking ashes out of the box, getting it ready for the wood they hauled out of the tender car. Still, within a few hours, they'd be moving again, and that would get him that much closer to his brother and Winry.

And then, then, they could decide what they were going to do next.

Alphonse swallowed hard, thinking that he didn't want to leave Amestris. Mom was buried here. Dad, too. But if alchemists were going to be hunted, if he and Edward weren't safe any more, it was time to go.

A tug on his wrist brought his attention to the present again, and Alphonse glanced sideways at Paninya. She smiled, a little warily. "Ready to get on board?" she asked.

He took another long look around, thinking this place looked a lot like Risembool. Like home. Nodding, Alphonse said, "Yeah. There's nothing more to see here," and let her drag him back to the train.