Author: Jordanna Morgan
Archive Rights: Please request the author's consent.
Characters: Mainly Al, with Ed and others in the general picture.
Setting: First anime, but should be cross-compatible. A Christmas during Ed's first three years as a State Alchemist.
Summary: Perhaps the Elrics did gain something for their loss. It just wasn't what they expected.
Disclaimer: They belong to the genius of Hiromu Arakawa. I'm only playing with them.
Notes: This is a gift fic for the wonderful Skybright Daye, to mark the five-year anniversary of our friendship. April isn't exactly the right time of year for a holiday fic, but I did tell her that reading her first FMA fic would be better than Christmas, so... there you go. A little bit of Christmas in return. Equivalent Exchange, right? *g*
It was late on Christmas morning, and the Hughes household resembled a riot.
Assorted friends and relatives, mostly on Gracia's side, were there. Her mother and aunt and a few cousins, several neighbors the couple were close with, playground playmates of Elicia's and their parents. In other words, a great number of normal people.
And then there were Colonel Mustang and his officers: Hawkeye showing off Black Hayate's newest trick, Havoc getting cigarette ashes on the rug, Breda eating everything in sight, Falman arguing about sports with the civilians, Fuery blowing out fuses as he tried to rewire a faulty string of lights. At least Major Armstrong had managed to keep his shirt on so far. The evidence at hand suggested that maybe Gracia really was the most understanding woman in the world, because she welcomed her husband's boisterous comrades almost as if they were her own brothers and sister.
...And then there were Edward and Alphonse Elric.
The unfamiliar, non-military guests mostly gave the brothers a polite distance, as strangers at a large party tend to do. A few attempted to strike up conversations when they heard Ed's name, curious to meet the famed State Alchemist prodigy in person, but Ed was uncharacteristically subdued. Christmas always made him somber, because to him it meant memories of what was lost, and thoughts of what they never even had a chance to have.
As for Al, he knew no one could really help giving him an occasional odd glance, a massive armored figure looming in the Hughes' comfortable living room--but out of respect for their hosts, no one commented or questioned. The Hughes would never have associated with anyone who could be deliberately unkind, so it was alright; mere innocent wonderment was something Al had long since grown used to.
What was more, he liked being around small children. Their curiosity was at times painfully blunt, but their acceptance was just as genuine.
One of Elicia's numerous Christmas gifts was a set of colorful alphabet magnets. Now Al sat on the floor beside the couch, with Elicia and a pair of three-year-old twins on his lap--watching with tolerant amusement as they ponderously arranged the letters on his chestplate.
Hughes, of course, was having a photographic field day.
Meanwhile, Ed was perched above Al's shoulder on the arm of the couch, oblivious to Hughes' snapping camera and the rest of the world. His amber eyes were reading and re-reading the papers in his hands: copies of a classified file that offered a new lead on the Philosopher's Stone. It had come in a plain envelope with a red foil bow on it, handed over by Colonel Mustang with a smirk and a sly Merry Christmas.
There were other presents, as well. The brothers' constant travel and general disregard for possessions made them difficult to buy gifts for, but Lieutenant Hawkeye had found a very old and rare alchemy book in an obscure little bookstore in Central, and convinced the rest of Mustang's contingent to chip in on the cost. It turned out to be a book that, once upon a time, Ed and Al had eagerly devoured in their father's study. The original was consigned to ashes when they burned down their house, but Al was rather glad to have it again--and he knew Ed was too, even if his brother didn't acknowledge that fact with more than a somewhat awkward thank-you.
Major Hughes gave Al a folding pocketknife, to carry in the satchel strapped to his cuisse; the man knew his knives, and it had a strong, sharp blade, with a few other small tools built into it. Ed received a sturdy new pair of boots, because his old ones had begun to show their age even after numerous alchemic repairs. As sporadically as the brothers saw Hughes between their travels, he understood them strangely well, and his gifts were simple, useful things to aid them on their journey.
Perhaps it was something about being a father.
Even little Elicia had a present for them, in the form of a bright crayon drawing, depicting the last joint birthday party her parents had hosted for herself and Ed. It was very sweet of her. (Although the moment Ed saw the proportions of his figure, in comparison to all the others... well, safe to say that Al was just quick enough to grab him and clamp a hand over his mouth. He told Elicia his wildly squirming brother was only excited, and that was true enough, if not exactly in the right way.)
And simply being there was a gift, in more ways than Al could count.
The brothers had survived another year of long hard roads, of dangerous battles and painful disappointments. They seemed no closer to their goal than they had been the year before, but they weren't any worse off, either--and with the life they lived, that was something in itself. They still had each other, and that meant they still had hope.
More than that, they were among friends. The Hughes family, who welcomed them into this home as if they were normal boys, with no thought of what anybody else might think. Colonel Mustang, whose wry gaze had mysteriously softened, just for a moment, when he watched Ed open his envelope. The other officers, who took time away from mingling with the normal guests to chat and joke and play around with the brothers, drawing them into the fun in spite of themselves. Al and Ed had never asked these people to care, had sometimes even done things that could have pushed them away... but they did care, all the same.
In a little while, the children would spill out of the house to build snowmen in the yard, and Hughes would be in the midst of the action with his camera. Al would create a mighty snow fort with alchemy, knowing Ed couldn't resist leading a siege against it, just like when they were kids in Resembool--and Colonel Mustang would roll his eyes and grind his teeth when he realized that his supposedly dignified military officers had mutinously snuck out to join the fray.
Then, late in the afternoon, there would be a feast. Al regretted that he couldn't enjoy it for himself, but once the usual awkward excuses were made, he would take pleasure in the warmth of good company around the table. He would even be glad to watch Ed cheerfully stuff himself with Gracia's cooking.
However fleeting it might be in their lives, such ordinary happiness was enough to make a boy think curious things.
The Elric brothers had defied the forbidden, made unthinkable sacrifices, done themselves such terrible harm, all because they wanted to bring their mother back. They wanted to reclaim what they knew as their family; and in that impossible intent, they had failed.
But now, years later, surrounded by people who cared about them, who supported them in all they fought for, who liked them for themselves in spite of their strangenesses and all of their mistakes...
Al always had suspected that Equivalent Exchange worked in weirder ways than Ed gave it credit for.
2010 Jordanna Morgan