- Summer - Laura -
. c h a p t e r s i x t e e n .
And Then There Were None
My condition is worsening, I can tell. I'm losing weight; I can't sleep; every time I throw up, there is more and more blood.
I'm not sure how much longer I can last.
(I have to get home to Brother. I have to.)
And then one day, finally, the world stands still.
[Ten hours, ten minutes.]
[I don't want to live anymore.]
I haven't left my office since Hermione and Ernie brought me back to my senses that day. True, I allowed myself to go through the rest of the day in fairly high spirits, but after that, there was no more pretending. I can't force myself to be happy, and I can't force myself to continue believing in the slim hope of Edward's survival. I need to make sure that he is alive; I need to make sure that he is still standing, strong and proud with his brilliant smile.
Somehow, I've become desperate enough to shut myself up in my room. I remember sending a vague note to the headmaster about my whereabouts and that the classes for the rest of the week are to be cancelled. I'm sure that it went through. No one has complained, and there was a similarly vague note that came back: 'As you wish.'
I flip another page, ignoring the strain of my eyes against the dark black ink. I finally understand why Edward had—has—such trouble focusing for so long; hours and hours of reading the same thing under a dim light seems to have weakened my eyesight. It's not a problem, though... As long as it helps me get back to Brother.
The thought of my brother makes me squeeze my eyes shut. My chest hurts with a sort of pain that's unexplainable; it's that pain that you cannot reach in and dig out, or create easily. It's like a knife slashing inside my chest, wounding me right at the core.
How could I have been so stupid? The morose notion, continuous through my thoughts, pops up over and over. How did I fool myself into believing I was Edward?
It's the Truth, I know. The Truth and its cruel, sadistic way of wanting to fuck me over. But I will not give in to it. I will find a way to get back to my brother — my only family. I'll find a way even if it means shutting myself up for hours in here.
After a while, the walls seem to close in; it's hard to breathe, so I open a window and rub my tired eyes. The outside air is bitter and fresh. The scent of pine trees float over and somehow — somehow it's almost nostalgic. Like the old remnant of a memory that I've long forgotton. My body sags when I sit on the windowsill, my forehead pressed against the cool glass. My eyes and brain and hands hurt; my stomach hasn't stopped its stabbing pains for hours; everything is going to Hell...but I refuse to stop.
Maybe — maybe, though, a little rest wouldn't hurt...
Immediately, a wave of guilt crashes through me. Anger. Terror. What am I doing, thinking of resting when my brother is somewhere — in another dimension — possibly hurt or dead, maybe even looking for me just as fruitlessly as I am for him...never stopping, like the stubborn guy he is. I shoot upward, feeling the newfound desperation surge through me like an adrenaline rush.
When I head over to my books, though, piled high one on top of another in nearly every corner of the room, I feel so lost. Dizzy. Confused. I have no idea what to do, where to start, and it seems like an infinite amount of possibilities — all of them untrue or bound to fail. What do I look for? Where do I start? If Edward were here, if only Brother were here...he would know.
But he isn't here. For the first time, I realize how lonely I feel.
Dropping down to the floor, I hold my head in my heads and shut my eyes again to the world. Think, Al. What could possibly equal to the amount of desire I have to return home? To return to my brother? It seems endless, how much I want to see him again. And not just him, but Winry, Granny, Colonel...
I know that I will miss this place too. Hermione and Ernie, the days of teaching students (and terrorizing them at the same time, now that I think about it — goodness, I don't think Brother would've done that much either) and patronizing...Umbridge. (Was I about to call her Imabitch?)
Just thinking of leaving them, my friends, makes me sad. Genuinely sad. Enough to make me bow my head lower and sort of sigh through my mouth, just to see if I can remove some of the gradually increasing depression off —
I stare at my hands, wondering if it was ever this easy. Ever this hard.
My memories of this place. Magic, Hermione, Ernie, Dumbledore, Umbridge...everyone, all of them. They're worth something. The knowledge of their land, their people, the emotions that they've caused me to feel and the things that I've given them — they're worth something. Possibly enough to go back.
But to forget this place? Forget England, the wizarding world, all the people here...can I really do that? Just leave them, out of nowhere, with no hope of knowing — of understanding — what I did? Can I really do that?
A flash of Edward—beaming and happy and alive—runs across my mind, and I think, if I could forget everyone and everything — everything — to go back, then I would.
[Ten hours, forty-three minutes.]
The November night air is freezing and does nothing to help the almost overwhelming nausea and pain coursing through my body (I can't have much time left I have to get home to Brother). It bites against my cheeks and I'm pretty sure that my hands are numb from the exposure. For a second I humour the thought that I might have frost in my hair or such, but then I get serious again as my breath comes out in visible puffs of air. I'm almost there. So close.
Energy hums beneath my fingertips as I touch the ground, drawing lines and circles, words that are all familiar and at the same time so foreign. Though I've been out here since the cold dead of midnight, I can see that the sky is slowly turning a brighter shade of blue — I've spent all my time preparing, mentally and physically, for the deed that I am about to do.
It's not hard to choose from the limited possibilities; either this works, or I die. (I'm probably going to die anyway.) And I know, I know that there's so much more that I can do, that I can learn, if I had the time, but in my mind this is the solution that fits for me. I will go to my brother or I will die trying.
When I stand upright, I take in a large, shuddering breath, ignoring the way my hands seem to freeze and my body just wants to shut down. No, my mind tells me, don't do it. Walk away. You can find another way. There is always another way.
Not for me, my heart says. And my heart is never wrong.
Slowly, I walk to the middle of the circle. I pull the coat tighter on my shoulders so I am just a bit warmer, and the red fabric brushes against my nose. It doesn't smell like Brother. Not anymore. I don't think it ever has. It's something from this world—not my own, not my home.
And, somehow, I feel wrong wearing it now. It's too big for my shoulders, too long for my frame. It's like a burden on my back that I can't seem to remove. It's the constant reminder of my brother — that I am never him, that I could never be him, never be his wonderful brilliance or his stubborn determination. The reminder that I will not — possibly ever — amount to everything he is, was, and will be.
But that's okay. Because it's him. And if it's him, I can never hate it.
The coat slips from my shoulders, and the cold air overtakes me with an iron fist. I swallow thickly; thankfully, I don't feel the hot prickle behind my eyes that I expected as I throw the jacket to the side.
Edward Elric has never been here.
They will remember. I will not.
I clap my hands together, feel the buzz of energy, hear the clap of lightning, the stormy roll of thunder, the shift of the earth beneath my feet. Breathe in the electricity, set my limbs on fire, fly away to another place far away. I clap, and I set my hands down on the chalky earth beneath me, and soon the words and desires and intentions flow through my brain like a never-ending river of knowledge.
The world ends with a blinding flash of light.
and in the end...
I cannot sleep tonight.
The night is thick and dark, and when I close my eyes I am drowning. The dormitory is quiet; Parvati and Lavender and the others have already fallen asleep...
I envy them, I realize. I envy them and their sheltered beliefs and their oh-so-simple lives. Because I cannot sleep as soundly as they do; my dreams are not of handsome men and children and white picket fences. Instead, mine are plagued by demons that have never been named, monsters who look just like humans, and devils who only want to destroy innocent lives.
I see Professor Elric (his name is Alphonse, he's no older than me—I want to call him Edward and it kills me inside), with his wide, kind eyes and his short-cropped hair and the way he truly, truly is. And then I see the man my mind has created to be his older brother—Edward—who is not Alphonse in any way except he is, because...
(He thought he was his older brother and suddenly everything makes sense. The scowls that seem so out of place, the harsh tone that isn't isn't ISN'T him, the way he fiddles with hair that doesn't exist—)
It all makes a sickening amount of sense, but that doesn't make it right. It doesn't make it better; it doesn't make the darkness encroaching on all of our lives any brighter.
Ginny is dead, and Alphonse is taking the blame.
I wish I could do something—anything—to make this right...but what am I, in the end? Just a sixteen-year-old know-it-all who thinks she's better than she really is. In the end, I'm only a child; in the end, I can do absolutely nothing to help those I care for.
(It strikes me as strange, I think, that Alphonse is my age yet he seems so much older. He has a hardness in his eyes, a desperation and a cry for help and a plea—just let it end—that I've never seen matched. Even Sirius, even Professor Lupin, even Dumbledore has never looked so aged.)
I don't understand, and I doubt I ever will.
I lie awake for most of the night, staring at the canopy above my bed (scarlet gushing red pain blood please make it stop) and wondering with growing desperation how I can possibly help Alphonse save what is left of himself. He tried so hard—so hard—to convince me and Ernie that he is fine, that he won't do anything stupid, and while Ernie seems to believe him...
Not for one second.
(I've seen that I'm fine face one too many times. Harry wore it so much last year...)
The last time I saw Alphonse was after dinner on the night he made that horrible revelation. His eyes were unfocused; he was not at all there as I tried to talk to him, to get through to him...but he was (is) gone. It's terrifying, to see him like this; before, he had been so full of vibrancy and life. And even if that was not truly him—even if that was Edward—it's still a part of him. I'm sure of it.
I've tried to convince Harry and Ron of this, that Alphonse is a good person and they shouldn't hate him and none of this is his fault, but Ron, especially, will not budge. I can see the pain, the despair, the desperation as they struggle for dominance in his features. He wants—no, needs—someone to take the blame. His little sister is gone. The little sister who he's always doted on, the little sister who is (was) fiercely protective of her family, the little sister who could definitely hold her own in a fight...
She was just standing in the wrong place, facing the wrong way, with her back to the wrong spell.
It was an accident, and we all know it, but that doesn't dampen the pain at all.
Professor Elric has simply become a non-topic between the three of us. I believe one thing; Ron believes the other; and Harry is stuck somewhere in the middle, with his desire to think the best of everyone combating with his desperation for someone to blame. (As an honorary Weasley, Ginny was his little sister, after all. But perhaps there was a bit more...) Our friendship is too strong to shatter for this; our bond is too great for this to ruin us. But sometimes, when Harry confides in me when we are alone, I'm not sure how much longer Ron can take this.
He sees Professor Elric in the hallway daily, sees the way he's not sleeping and not eating and absolutely hates himself for this. And I think that somewhere, Ron knows that it wasn't his fault that Ginny is dead. But he's proud and he's stubborn and he's a Gryffindor male, so he can't go back on his word...not now. And somewhere, he wants to apologize and tell Professor Elric that he knows it's not his fault...but then he has no one to blame and then where will he be?
It's a horrible situation, one with no way out and no happy endings because Ginny is dead and the blameless are taking all the blame while those desperate for comfort only add fuel to the fire.
I cannot sleep tonight, because my thoughts are filled with the three boys in my life who are only striving for happiness they can never (never) reach.
I don't know how long I lie awake like this as my thoughts spiral and my mind collapses and my heart bursts...but suddenly, the pre-dawn glow from our window is illuminated in a brilliant blue light. (I know it's Professor Elric—Alphonse—even before I am out of bed, even before my mind registers this light as the energy of a transmutation. Who else could it possibly be?)
I don't know what he's done, but as I dash to the window, desperately search for the source of the crackling light, I recognize the crushing feeling in my gut as the one I felt when I faced down that basilisk.
This is the end, and there's nothing I can do to stop it.
I'm not the only one who's dashing downstairs to the common room in the few seconds after the light fades. Harry and Ron are there, along with Fred and George; clearly, they have been getting no more sleep than me (and Alphonse.) We share a quick, wordless glance before running as one toward the portrait hole. We are in pajamas and thin dressing gowns, and it is the middle of November; surely, we will catch our death of cold if we stay outside for too long...but I don't care about that right now, and I'm sure the others—no matter how much they deny it—feel the same way.
Because in the end, even if he's a professor, even if his eyes are inexplicably old and everyone treats him as an adult...he's barely sixteen, lost and alone in a dangerous, poisonous world.
We are not the only group making our way outside. We meet several older Ravenclaws on the Grand Staircase; they look concerned (perhaps alarmed) as they rush downstairs with us. Surely, they have realized what the blue light is...who it has to have been...
We make our way across the grounds quickly—Harry was able to identify the light as coming from the Quidditch Pitch. Somehow, Dumbledore is already there; he is standing on the edge of a burnt section of the grass, staring sadly at something in the middle of the field.
It takes me several seconds to realize that this barely-curved line of ash is the outer edge of a transmutation circle.
I step forward slowly, cautiously, because the charred grass is still faintly glowing and who knows if the array is still dangerous? But Dumbledore does not stop me, and nothing happens as I step over runes the size of Hagrid's palm, lines as thick as my arm, toward the red mass of something in the center.
I don't know what it is; I don't know what Alphonse has done; all I know is that this array is the most complex I have ever seen. I can't even begin to understand what he tried to do with this transmutation, but I can make an educated guess—after all, the only thing he talked about while Ernie and I tried to calm him down was his older brother. Edward. The real Edward. We had tried to talk him out of it, but what chance in Hell do we stand when we're up against an Elric?
(It doesn't matter which one—not really—Ed is harsher than Alphonse but they share that same drive, that same desperation fueled by family. It's amazing...amazingly dangerous. I am terrified for what has happened to both of them.)
I don't know what I expect to find at the center of the circle. Perhaps this mass of red is Edward, bloody and collapsed; perhaps it is Alphonse, in that coat he seems to love so much; perhaps it is nothing at all, an illusion tricking our eyes to see what is not there. But when I finally arrive, still picking my way around runes and lines and embers, all I find is Alphonse's coat, still with that symbol emblazoned proudly on the back, crumpled and lonely on the muddy ground. I pick it up with shaking, disbelieving fingers, and look back at those outside the circle. We all know what has happened.
Alphonse is gone.
(It begins to snow.)
[Eleven hours, seven minutes.]
...nothing really matters.
It is dark—the middle of the night—but nobody in the office is sleeping.
Edward doesn't seem to sleep at all, anymore; whenever he dozes off in a meeting, whenever he lies down on a couch, he always wakes up screaming. I don't know what he dreams of; I'm sure I don't want to know. But this grief, this terrible foreboding, is tearing us all apart...
(I had found the alley where they were attacked, after Edward was whisked off to the hospital. There were no bodies, no evidence of a rebound—only blood. I do not tell Edward this, but there is far too much for Alphonse to still be alive.)
The muggers have been arrested, but that does nothing for any of us, because things like Alphonse is gone and there's nothing we can do and Edward is falling apart are tearing our lives to pieces. Alphonse Elric, the sweetest boy who has ever lived, the bravest and fairest and kindest person I've ever met, is dead and gone.
None of us want to admit it, but Alphonse was like a little brother—no, a best friend—to all of us. He's earned his title as an adult, now, at sixteen (he earned it years ago, when he retained his sanity in that Goddamned armor)...but when I remember him, all I can see is a boy, scared and alone and frightened, with only his big brother at his side as they try to fix their lives.
They thought their problems were over. After Alphonse regained his body, after he was healthy again and everything settled down...everyone thought they could be happy—be the teenagers they never allowed themselves to be.
And then this happened.
[Eleven hours, eleven minutes.]
I don't know how to make this better; I don't know how to make our lives right again. This isn't something I can scorch, char, incinerate and get rid of forever. I couldn't fix Mister Hawkeye; I couldn't fix Maes; and I can't fix Alphonse, no matter how much I wish I could.
It's nearing dawn, and while Falman is snoring lightly on the couch, the rest of us are awake. Edward is sitting at one of the desks, scribbling madly on yet another piece of paper. He has worked, nearly non-stop, to find a way to bring Alphonse back, because there wasn't a body so he has to be alive. I know the chances of this are slim—virtually impossible—but nobody has the heart to tell him to stop looking. This is tearing him apart at the seams, but to see him lose it entirely would, somehow, be worse.
Suddenly, there is a knock at the door, quiet and unsteady and barely audible. Everyone glances up, startled; it is barely six o'clock in the morning; nobody should be here at this time. I nod to Riza, who draws her gun and steps quietly toward the door, listening for a moment before flinging it open, aiming her gun at whoever is on the other side.
I cannot see who the intruder is; I cannot guess who stands in the doorway. All I see is Riza's gun drop from nerveless fingers as she takes a quick step backward, making a strange sort of choking sound.
I am on my feet in an instant, gloves in place and poised to snap...but Riza only steps back further, letting the man into the room. Suddenly, my hand has gone slack as well.
[Eleven hours, eighteen minutes.]
If I am honest with myself, the boy looks utterly terrible. His skin is the color of chalk, and his red-rimmed eyes are framed by dark circles. (He looks no better than Edward, in fact. What has happened to him?)
He does not answer; his eyes flash around the room desperately, taking in everyone as they stare at him in shock. Everyone, that is, except for Edward...who is still working furiously over his paper, scratching out and redrawing and scowling and crumpling and restarting again and again and again...
But Al's eyes come to rest on his brother regardless, staring in wonder as the pile of rejected circles grows ever-higher next to him. I think, suddenly, that we should wake Ed from his trance, because this is Alphonse and by some miracle he is alive, but Al beats me to it. He is across the room faster than I can move, staring down at his older brother with wonder (and panic?) in his eyes.
His voice is a hoarse whisper, something forced out, something barely audible. I don't expect Edward to look up at his voice, because he is lost in his own mind, the algorithms and the angles and the runes that might be able to save his little brother. (He hasn't said a word in days.) But, inexplicably, his head snaps up immediately as his gaze shoots around the room, searching searching searching (begging) for the source of the voice to reveal itself. And when he finally finds Al, standing feet from him across the desk, his eyes widen and his mouth drops open and papers go flying as he leaps over the desk to embrace him in a bone-crushing hug.
I feel like I'm intruding on something far too personal as Edward lets out something akin to a sob and grips his brother tighter. "Oh God, Al...we didn't know where you were, I thought you might be—"
It is a moment longer before I realize that Alphonse is not embracing him back.
[Eleven hours, twenty-one minutes.]
There is something wrong with his eyes, I realize as I take a cautious step forward. They aren't vibrant, lively, like they have been for years. They are quiet and somber and dead...and for one horrifying moment, I think that this may not be Alphonse after all. (But he has to be, because Envy is dead and gone and nobody else could do something like this, there's no other way—)
Ed realizes that there is something terribly wrong as well, for he releases his brother and holds him at arm's length, his eyes wide and terrified and more alive than they have been in months. "Al, what's wrong? Are you okay? Does anything hurt? The hospital's not far from here, you'll be fine—"
It's not just Al's eyes that are wrong, I notice now. If Ed wasn't holding him up, surely he would be on the ground; his face has grown impossibly paler, and his legs are shaking like jelly as he stares back at his brother with a strangely serene smile on his face.
"I'm...it's fine...really...there's nothing..."
Just as he says this, though, he bends over and there is a horrible retching noise and suddenly he is on the ground. There is blood everywhere and Edward is covered in it and everyone else is upon them in an instant, yelling and sitting Alphonse up as he continues to vomit red everywhere everywhere EVERYWHERE and what is going on why is this happening please God someone save him—
Edward is screaming his name, ignoring the blood caking his clothes as he pushes Breda to the side, shoves me and Havoc away, to grab hold of Al's shoulders and pull him close, staring into his eyes with unmatched horror and desperation.
"AL! ALPHONSE! What did you give up?"
Somehow, Al finds it in him to smile, though it looks horribly demented and wrong because there's a thick trail of blood down his chin that we can't do anything to stop. "This...this's nothin'...missin' this f'r months..."
His eyes list to the side, and Edward slaps his cheek harshly, desperately, as if this will fix whatever is wrong with his brother's insides. "Alphonse, you listen to me," he says, his voice choking as his eyes fill with angry tears. "I swear to God, if you let go now—"
"It'll b'fine," he insists, though his eyes are getting duller and duller by the second. I gesture madly for Fuery to call an ambulance (just like so many months ago), but somehow, I don't think it'll matter...not this time. "Broth'r...really...you 'kay...?"
"What?" The question throws Ed off, and I have to admit that it's a strange thing to ask when Al is the one vomiting his insides across the office. "Yeah, Al, I'm fine, and you're gonna be fine too! See, Fuery's calling an ambulance, they're gonna take good care of you and then we're going to—to go home to Winry and fuck the stupid military, fuck Central, we're gonna be happy out in the country, you'll see—"
He chokes again, and he must slap Al's cheek again to get him to focus. I am holding the boy up from behind, now, because Ed is shaking so badly I doubt he can support his weight. (The boy is light—too light—what is wrong with him this is not good) I try not to jostle him, because God knows what has happened to his insides and what could possibly make it worse (it's already bad—I doubt there's much else we could do), and Ed's trying to keep him awake even as tears cascade down his cheeks.
"Listen to me, Brother, you're going to be fine," he says through a mouthful of tears, and it must be bad—horribly bad—because Ed almost never calls Alphonse that. "The ambulance is on its way and they're gonna fix you up and—"
"It'll b'fine..." Al insists, and I can see his eyes focus on Ed for just a moment before they drift away again. "Love...you...Broth..."
"ALPHONSE! What happened to you?"
The tears are thick and fast on Ed's face, now, but he ignores them in favor of grasping his brother's face in his own, begging him to hold on just a little longer. And I realize, suddenly, what Al means by "it'll be fine." He won't be fine—he knows exactly the state he's in. But Ed...he's alive...and to Al...
"Please, tell me what's wrong—"
Ed is yelling more, is screaming at his brother to stay with us, but I know he is beyond help. Whatever Al did—whatever he sacrificed to get himself home to his big brother...it's too much for his ravaged body to handle. If he was already missing some of his innards, like he said, what else could the Gate have taken...?
"Thanks...f'r ev'rythin'..." Al trails off before taking a gasping, shuddering breath that doesn't seem to give him any oxygen. I wonder suddenly if his lungs are missing as well. "Love...you...Br..."
His head lolls against my arm, and he is silent.
The scream is terrible, is the worst I've ever heard. I have no idea Edward is capable of making such a sound as he pulls his brother from my grasp, his eyes wide and horrified, shaking Al's limp form.
He knows...he knows and yet is unable to accept, as he hugs Alphonse tight and rocks back and forth. He's mumbling nonsense to himself, to his little brother, and tears stream down his cheeks as he is lost to the world. Nothing matters anymore. Nothing matters except the boy in his big brother's arms, covered in his own blood, wearing a serene smile that was only ever meant to put others at ease in his last moments of life.
(Always, he puts others before himself. He wanted to comfort his brother, comfort his friends, because he knew he was dying and there was nothing anyone could do to save him.)
"You've always been the best, you know..." I hear Ed say into Al's hair. Tears cascade shamelessly down his cheeks as he continues to rock back and forth. "I never could have asked for a better brother. No matter what...what I did. I ruined your life and I still..." Sobs wrack his body before he can continue—"I love you too, Brother. Thank you...for everything..."
The paramedics are here, but it is far too late. Edward will not let go of his brother's body, will not allow them to clean the blood from either of them, will not respond to anything except his brother's slowly stiffening form. There is nothing any of us can do.
The world has stopped in horror; time has frozen for this unspeakable tragedy...
Alphonse Elric is gone.
[Eleven hours, forty-six minutes.]
f i n .
Summer: It's been a long journey for all of this with this story. We've thought over theories and stayed up late at night to piece everything together. We've had fun answering your beck and call, and we've also had fun writing it together. And though we've grown as writers, and as people, thank you for sticking with us to the end. We—and I—hope that you'll stick around for the next ones as well, no matter how long it might take.
Laura: ^ What Summer said XD;; She's way more eloquent than me~
Before you throw rotten tomatoes at us, please believe us when we say that this chapter was always supposed to be the last. Maya never actually got around to writing it, so Summer and I just decided to finish it haha
Grammar, formatting, tenses, awkward wordings have all been fixed by yours truly~
And...well...thank you all, again. Seriously, there are no words for the love we all feel for you :3
(P.S.—I'd say I'm sorry for the ending...but I'm really not XD;;)