"The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope."
One hour away from the books. That was all Al wanted. Just enough time for them to clear their heads and make their journey seem a little more bearable. As a bonus, they would get a chance to reminisce about what they once had as children and appreciate what they would have in the future.
Now if he could just get Ed to muster up some enthusiasm about it.
Ed's foot slipped into another sinkhole and he snarled when mud filled his boot to the brim. "That's it, we're going back--!"
"No!" Al said stubbornly. "Not until we've caught some fish!"
Ed planted his fishing pole in the grass at the edge of the path and heaved himself up. His foot slipped out of the boot with a loud squelch and he wiggled his mud-splattered automail toes. "Now there's gunk in the joints…"
Al set the tackle box down and leaned down to retrieve the lost boot. "Maybe there wouldn't be if you wore some decent shoes."
"These are decent shoes!"
"They fly off your feet every time you try to run! Or walk for that matter."
"They're--combat--boots!" Ed protested as he hopped around on one foot to get his boot back on. "As in made for combat. Why would they have such a cool name if they were useless?"
"Because that guy who sold them to you wanted your money?"
Ed threw him a dirty look and Al had to remind himself that if he was ever going to get his brother to fish with him, he would have to tone down the smartass comments. It had been hard enough to get him this far and the treacherous path down to the river wasn't helping. No wonder nobody in East City ever went fishing if this was what they had to go through.
The brothers moved on, slipping and sliding their way down the hillside to the bank of the river. Al knew he had struck fishing gold when he found this spot the other day. They were far upstream of the factories and city pollution and an abandoned dock gave them access to the deep part of the river where the big fish swam.
Ed didn't seem to think much of it. He toed the first plank of the dock distrustfully. "You expect me to walk on this thing? It's about ready to fall apart!"
"I've already walked on it," Al replied. "It's perfectly safe."
"Fine, let's just get this over with," Ed muttered and strolled out onto the dock. The splintered wood creaked ominously beneath his feet and then again when Al followed. Dragonflies and mosquitoes zoomed around their heads as they moved and Ed slapped them away irritably.
"Should've come earlier in the day when these little buggers weren't out…"
"Sunset is the best time to fish," Al pointed out. "How many do you think we'll catch?"
Ed plunked down on the dock and folded his legs beneath him. "Don't know, don't care. We gonna do this or what?"
Al settled down beside him and they got to work on baiting the hooks. Which turned out to be far more of a chore than Al anticipated. His hands were too large and unwieldy to hang on to the slippery bait and Ed kept tangling the line and cursing loud enough to scare all the fish away.
"This is such a waste of time," Ed grumbled.
"It's not," Al insisted as he cast his line into the water. "It's nice. It's relaxing."
Ed tossed his line out without looking and snorted. "I don't care what you say, fishing is always going to feel like a chore after our training with Teacher--"
"Brother, you're tangling the lines!"
Ed swore and they reeled their lines in to find that both their hooks had gotten stuck in the same clump of weeds. On top of that, their bait was gone. Ed flung the weeds onto the dock, holding his nose with his other hand. "Those weeds smell like crap."
"It can't be that bad," Al replied. He combed his fingers through the weeds carefully in search of his hook. "Come on, get your line untangled."
"But it's all…slimy!"
"You're wearing gloves!"
Ed wrinkled his nose and gingerly dug through the weeds until he got his hook free. Once again, he threw his line into the water and jammed his fishing pole between the planks of the dock so he wouldn't have to hold it. Al cast him a shrewd look as Ed leaned against him with a bored expression. Leave it to Edward Elric to come up with a way to be lazy while fishing…
"Brother," Al said slowly. "You didn't put any more bait on your hook."
"There were a few little chunks left," Ed said with a wave of his hand. "Good enough."
"Suit yourself," Al chuckled. "But don't come crying to me when I catch all the fish."
But just as Al threw his own baited hook into the water, Ed's fishing line went taut.
"Hey, look at that!" Ed cheered. "What were you saying about you catching all the fish?"
He snatched up his fishing pole and started winding it back. But though the line remained taut, it was also motionless and required very little effort on Ed's part to reel in.
"Not a very lively one, is he?" Al said smugly. "Maybe you caught more weeds."
"Shut up!" Ed snapped and began reeling it in even faster. "At least I actually got something, which is more than I can say for you!"
The hook popped out of the water with something white and soggy dangling from it by a thread. Ed grabbed the line and held it up to get a better look.
"What is that, a diaper?" Al asked.
"I think it's a glove," Ed told him. He plucked the glove off the hook carefully and wrung the water out of it. "Wonder how it--whoa!"
"What?" Al asked, startled by his reaction.
Ed dropped his fishing pole and held up the glove, revealing a very familiar transmutation circle etched into the fabric. "It's the colonel's glove!" he exclaimed gleefully. "He lost his freaking glove, Al! And in a river! How hilarious is that?"
"I don't think he'd find it very funny," Al pointed out. "We should return that when we get the--"
"Are you kidding?" Ed demanded. "There's no way in hell I'm giving this back! This baby's all mine!"
"You're not going to try and use it, are you?!" Al said fearfully.
"Well, not right now," Ed amended, laying the glove out on the dock. "It's all wet now…"
Al snatched the glove away from him. "You can't use it! You don't know how!"
Ed reached over to pluck the glove out of his hands. "How hard can it be? Just snap and burn, right?"
"That's like me saying all you do is clap and slap!"
"Al, you've got a fish!"
Al fumbled with his fishing pole quickly. It had nearly slid out of his hands without him ever noticing. The line cut back and forth through the water and Al yanked back on it hard, bringing the fish to the surface for a brief moment.
"Damn, he's a big one!" Ed yelled. "Get him, Al!"
"I'm trying!" Al said in excitement.
The fish dove down and made to swim under the dock, forcing the fishing line between the planks. Ed punched a hole straight through the rotted wood with his automail and hauled the line up the rest of the way. It was a good catch. The fish dangling on the hook easily measured as long as Ed's forearm.
"Wow!" Ed cried. "We didn't get fish like him on the island!"
"No kidding," Al said in wonder.
They watched the huge fish wiggle around for a little bit, gills flapping desperately for air.
"So," Ed said uncertainly, "what do we do with him?"
Al looked at him. "Um, I hadn't really…thought about it."
Ed smacked him on the arm. "This was your idea! Are we keeping him or not?"
"Well, we don't really need him for food," Al said logically. "So I guess we just let him go."
Ed rolled his eyes. "Yeah, so we can tell everyone we caught a giant fish and have no proof to back it up?"
"Who were you planning on bragging to?" Al asked curiously.
"No one in particular," Ed muttered as he pried the hook out of the fish's mouth. But the moment the fish was free, it bit down on his fingers and Ed yelped. "Son of a bitch! Get it off, get it off!"
"Hold still, I can't do anything with you flapping your hand around!"
But Ed kept waving his hand back and forth until the fish released him and went flying back into the water with a wet slap. Ed nursed his fingers and kicked the tackle box in a fit of temper, sending the rest of their bait and hooks into the water as well.
"Brother," Al muttered in aggravation.
"Eh, sorry," Ed said apologetically. "But the damn thing bit me! Look at this, I'm bleeding!"
Al inspected his reddened fingers and shook his head. "I've seen you bleed more from a paper cut. And now we can't fish anymore because we have no bait!"
"I fished without bait," Ed informed him, as if that was something to be proud of. "And I caught something good too!"
"The colonel's glove doesn't count as catching something!"
"Yes it does! And it's an awesome catch if you ask me!"
Al leaned down to scoop up his fishing pole, perfectly prepared to argue the point, when his foot got caught in the hole Ed had made in the dock. He waved his hands around trying to get his balance back, but his other foot slipped off the dock before he could and the rest of him followed shortly after.
He didn't even have time to scream before he hit the water.
Al heard the hollow whoosh of water rushing into his armor and saw the dock right in front of him at his eye level. He flung an arm out for it desperately, but sensed that he was still falling deeper into the water. He would have shut his eyes if he could, but that wouldn't have blocked the sound of water sloshing around in his armor, horribly close to the blood-seal.
He stopped sinking. Al waited for his body to tell him what had happened and where he was, but obviously there was no sensory information to feel. He lifted his head up slowly and found himself face to face with a pale, wide-eyed Ed. His brother was still on the dock on his stomach and had somehow latched onto his arm as he fell, like a big red leech. That arm was the only part of the armor that was still on the dock.
Al looked down. The rest of him was underwater, but only up to his chest. Too low to touch the blood-seal. He felt around with his feet until he was sure the ground was underneath them and stood up fully. Once standing the water only came to his waist, but even that was enough to make him nervous.
Ed let out a shaky breath and released his arm, pushing himself up on his hands and knees. Al gripped the dock with both hands and hauled himself back up. The armor wasn't a pretty sight. His feet and ankles were caked with mud and the water would rust him solid if he didn't get dry soon.
"Can we go back now?" Ed said in very small voice and Al could tell from the look on his face that his brother's heart had all but stopped a moment ago.
"Y-Yeah," Al said quietly. "Let's go back."
They took their fishing poles and left the dock together in silence. Ed took the lead with his shoulders slumped and Al watched his small back glumly. One hour of freedom and bliss. Was that too much to ask for his older brother? Just some time to forget about their broken bodies and pretend to be normal…
But in one fell swoop, Al had brought it all crashing down on them again. When Ed looked back on this, he wouldn't remember the fish or the weeds or the bugs or the glove. He would remember the water and the armor and the blood-seal.
And all he would feel was pain.
Something crashed through the reeds on their left, bringing both brothers to a halt. Ed and Al looked at each other when they heard cursing and a man stepped out of the bushes right in front of them.
"Colonel?" Al said, bewildered.
Mustang paused in the middle of brushing mud off his clothes, going rather pale. He straightened up quickly and folded his hands behind his back, though his casual demeanor was offset by the mud stains on his shoes and the weeds sticking out of his hair.
"Alphonse," Mustang said gravely, nodding his head. "Fullmetal. What brings you out here?"
Al honestly couldn't figure out what to say. He had never seen the colonel in civilian clothes, much less when said clothes were in such a state of disarray. And that just brought his mind back to how his armor must look and he wrung his hands self-consciously. "Um, well…"
"Looking for this, Mustang?" Ed said slyly, holding out the sodden glove.
Mustang's lips grew tight. "Ah, yes…I see you found it."
"Hell yeah I did!" Ed snickered. "Fished it right up out of the river. You know water's bad for these gloves, right?"
"I'm aware," Mustang grumbled impatiently. "Let's not play games, Fullmetal. Give me my glove."
"Brother, I think you should…"
To Al's dismay, Ed stuffed the glove back in his pocket with a smirk. "Nah, I don't think so. Don't you know it's bad luck to share your catch with other fishermen?"
"I'm not a fisherman, I'm your commanding officer!" Mustang snapped angrily. "Ed, I'm warning you--!"
But Ed was already gone, abandoning his fishing pole to dash off into the reeds with a wild cackle. Mustang growled indistinctly and went after him, leaving Al alone on the path. He considered going after Ed, he really did, but Al wasn't all that keen on becoming another target for the colonel's wrath. Besides, Ed wouldn't be able to evade him for long.
His brother had clearly forgotten that Mustang carried a spare glove for occasions such as this.
A distant explosion and a puff of smoke further downriver made Al shake his head ruefully as he picked up his brother's pole. Maybe Ed would have something to remember after all.
"Men and fish are alike. They both get into trouble when they open their mouths."
--Jimmy D Moore--