One day, in the middle of everything, it suddenly struck Alphonse.
He wasn't even sure why it occurred to him. Just that—quite randomly, out of nowhere—it was suddenly there, inside his non-existent brain and churning itself into a thick, heavy mess that left him speechless and so unspeakably sad.
So he decided to do something about it.
And thus, "That One Day" began.
"…are you sure, Alphonse?"
Riza Hawkeye's voice was slightly disbelieving, her normally blank-face still as blank as ever—save for that look in her sherry eyes which mirrored the sadness and determination which Alphonse was sure was in his own emotions, too.
"Yeah! I mean…haven't you noticed it, too?"
The lieutenant's eyes snuck quickly to the door to the Colonel's office—where inside, commanding officer and a certain red-coated subordinate were having a very heated discussion. This, in itself, wasn't very abnormal, but something humming just underneath her skin warned her that something very unnormal was going to happen soon, if she decided to believe Alphonse and his belief in this awful it.
Finally, minutely, the lieutenant nodded curtly, a small smile tugging at the corner of her lips—one that stubbornly threatened to break free. "Yes. I believe I have. This is…very touching of you, you know. Especially since—"
Alphonse shook his head. "Oh, no, no! Please, Hawkeye…it—I don't…need it as much as he does. And besides, I think…I think if he were to finally have it, then in an extended sense, so would I. You know?"
And Hawkeye did know.
So she agreed.
Second Lieutenants Breda and Havoc were much easier to convince.
"Wait, you mean for the Boss?" Jean's voice was filled with as much excitement as it was anxiety. "Whoa…he isn't, like, gonna kill us, is he? Because that totally seems like a valid reaction, y'know, considering how he might somehow interpret it as a slight to his height."
Breda nudged him in the ribs. "Whether we die or not, you're not gonna pass this opportunity up, are you?"
Havoc grinned, cigarette angled upwards to the ceiling, as if throwing all cares to the wind. "Nope. Trust me, I'd be an idiot if I let that happen."
So Breda turned to Alphonse with a broad grin.
"Yeah. We're so in."
Warrant Officer Vato Falman was one Alphonse had been worried about, considering the man, himself, might be one of those who was in need of it. But strangely enough, when Alphonse asked him, instead of stiffening, getting defensive, or even jealous, the man's closed eyes began to tear, his square jaw delicately trembling.
And then he reached out—clasped both iron arms of Alphonse as best he could, much to the surprise of the seven-foot-tall inhabited suit of armor—and shook him slightly, muttering with a quiet wail, "Of course! Oh, of course I'll help you! I haven't… I haven't done something like this in ages! This is a brilliant idea, Alphonse! How have I not noticed it before?"
It was probably the most he had ever heard the warrant officer say to him in one breath.
And so, feeling very out of place and awkward, Alphonse laughed as best he could. "Well…I'm glad you like it!"
At least that took care of some of his worries—as well as added another participant.
Kain Fuery was perhaps, most shockingly of all, the hardest to convince.
But that might have been because he simply didn't understand it.
So much like a dog, he tilted his black-haired scalp to the side, looking up curiously and confusedly at the suit of armor before him. "What do you mean, he's not familiar with 'it'…?"
"I—I mean…" Oh, how to explain it? And herein laid the difficulty for Alphonse Elric—trying to say it in a way that made most sense, when in reality, it didn't make sense at all—and that was the problem. The whole problem—with everything. "…he…he doesn't like it very much, but I think that's subconsciously. He doesn't know how to respond…because I think it bothers him."
"Why? I mean, why does it bother him?"
…he honestly hadn't thought it'd be this hard to figure out.
"Um, forget that. That opens up a whole other can of worms—so are you in? Or not?"
Fuery blinked, faltering—as if he had forgotten what the conversation was about—and then grinned excitedly, nodding cheerfully. "Of course! Why wouldn't I? Sounds harmless enough."
Oh, then Kain Fuery didn't know his brother very well, because if Alphonse knew anything about him—and, quite honestly, he knew everything—then he knew that there were only two possible endings to "That One Day." Either his brother would give the reaction to it that Alphonse was hoping for…
…or he really would crush them to smithereens simply from the sheer force of his embarrassed outrage.
The funny thing was—Maes Hughes seemed to know exactly what Alphonse was going to say before he even proposed the idea to the man. For truly, as soon as Alphonse began to address it, he already got that look in his green eyes, a fond, heartbreaking smile on his face that made all the words the iron-clad younger Elric was going to say lose their form and finally erase themselves from existence.
Alphonse simulated swallowing, and braced himself to tentatively ask, "Um…Mr. Hughes…?"
But all the man did was pat his shoulder, nod once, and then walk away, murmuring quietly so Alphonse could hear—
—"You're a good kid, Al."
(He thought he could take that as, "Yeah, I'm in.")
Danny Brosch and Maria Ross were fairly easy to convince. Though the awkward pause had been…well, awkward, because the two weren't quite sure what to say at first, Alphonse felt a warm feeling begin to settle inside of him when the two nodded, and full-heartedly determined to help.
Maria had a strange look in her eye, though, as they parted ways. Alphonse couldn't decide if that had been pity he saw in her eyes—or perhaps shocked sympathy?
Or was she troubled, asking herself, too, why she had never noticed the lack of it before?
It was Schiezka who froze, and didn't know what to do for a good full minute when the idea of it was presented to her. Alphonse, worried, hurriedly began to fill in the silence.
"Sorry—I know it might be a bit awkward, but I thought it would help, you know—?"
And then she began to cry, which, quite honestly, worried Alphonse more than anything else.
But in the midst of his frantic flailing and fetching of Kleenexes, he thought he could hear her say between her sobs and choking gasps, "I'll do it! Oh, I'll do it—and I'll keep giving it, every day—to make up for whatever of it he didn't think he had before!"
Alphonse wasn't quite sure how Edward would react to that—but he was immensely grateful, nonetheless.
The last one to convince was the one that Alphonse was worried about the most. Not because it would be hard to win them over—oh, no. That part would be incredibly easy.
But he made sure to stock up on Kleenexes after the Schiezka-incident, because he knew that if it made her cry, well…
…then Major Armstrong would be a waterfall.
He was right.
But Armstrong had pledged his undying loyalty to the cause, so Alphonse supposed it was worth the shirtless sparkles and the insanely large, burly arms gripping him and pinning him to that strong chest for…well, he wasn't quite sure how long.
But now that everyone was finally assembled, the hardest part finally arrived.
Sitting back…and waiting.
When Edward finally left the Colonel's office, foul-mooded and ready to use alchemy against the first thing he saw—honestly, what was up that jerk's butt all the time that made him such a…jerk?—the very last thing he had expected to see was Hawkeye waiting for him.
It was a sight that perhaps shouldn't have been as startling as it was—but all the same, she simply stood there, calmly facing him from where he had just exited Mustang's inner office, her hands clasped before her, and a deep look on her face that seemed broken only when she noticed that he had finally arrived, in as infamous a fashion as ever.
And that, more than the strange moment of her waiting on him, shocked him quite unexpectedly.
"…you're not…going to shoot me, are you?" he asked tentatively, swallowing. "Because I swear, whatever it is, I didn't do it…" He tried to laugh, really—adding to his innocence.
But Hawkeye shook her head. Her eyes, dark brown and thick with some emotion, gave away that she was about to say something—but apparently, whatever it was, she deemed it unimportant, because then, without saying a word, she walked forward, right up to him, and squatted to his height (which he would have commented on, made some sort of angry remark and consequently blown up over—except for at the moment, he find he couldn't do any of that because he was just standing there, so scared and so hypnotized by her strange actions and oh, what's she reaching out for him for—?)—
—and then, she hugged him.
It happened eight more times that day—first Fuery, right after he stepped out of the office ("Hey, Boss, um…I know this'll be strange, but…here.")—then Breda and Havoc in the hallway, which was quite an unsafe location, considering they had been seen and then joined in a larger, bone-crushing group hug by an enthusiastic, weeping Major Armstrong—followed by Maria Ross and Danny Brosch, who saw Edward and each gave him one, trying to be as least awkward as possible—then Falman, who hugged him without a word, and kept walking by—and lastly, Schiezka, who, the instant she saw him, began to cry, run, and then practically glomped him instead of providing a gentle embrace like most everyone else.
Tallying it all up, it made sense that the instant Edward saw Maes, he began to fret and decided he definitely wanted some answers.
"Is there some weird 'hugging' bug that's gotten to everybody? Because I swear—everyone I've passed has just…been weird around me all day. What, is there no such thing as 'personal space' anymore?" he vented, angry, red-faced…and for some reason, feeling something odd brewing in the bottom of his stomach that swirled up through his neck and behind his eyes. "You'd think I had a cat die or something…"
Maes seemed entirely delighted—but oddly, calmly, almost in a detached-sense way. "Huh. So they all hugged you?"
Giving the man an odd look (What, was he in on it, too?), Edward nodded hesitantly. "Yeah…?"
"Hm." Maes hummed in thought, scratching the bottom of his chin. "Interesting. That's, actually, what I was going to do, too, but—"
"—why? What the heck's going on with you guys?" The blonde would never say it—but the entire situation was beginning to scare him.
Or perhaps the fear, instead, was aimed at that hot, bothersome, heavy feeling that was still thickening in his stomach.
(Did the boy know all along? Have a feeling about what they're trying to say—but choosing to deny it? Ignoring it, simply because he couldn't grasp this one, beautiful fact?)
Maes simply shrugged as if it was the simplest thing in the world. "Hugging's the easiest way to get it across. When words don't suffice, or when you're too scared, shy, or sometimes when you mean it most—hugging works. And for some people, it's the only way they know how to say it."
Edward stared at him, dumbfounded. And frustrated—but mainly dumbfounded.
"What the heck are you talking about? What's it?"
But then Maes grinned, and reached forward, bending down to Edward's height even as the boy stiffened, eyes wide, his body prepared for the hug—so used to this now, but why? And why did it mean so much?—before he even received it—
—but it was Maes' words tickling his ear that made that hot, stuffy feeling suddenly clog itself in his throat.
"Love, my boy. It's love."
Alphonse hadn't been ready for the strangely silent, red-faced older brother of his when the boy finally found him.
He had been sitting outside, on the river bank—Just like where I used to go after we had an argument, remember, Brother? Except, we aren't arguing now; at least, I hope we aren't and I hope we won't, please don't be angry with me for this—metal knees drawn up to his chest and large iron arms bent upon them as he idly watched the river flow by.
He hadn't seen his older brother sit down beside him, so much as he had felt him.
And heard him—Edward's unusually quiet, subdued voice that only came about when emotions were so thick and so laden, that he couldn't trust himself to normal volume.
If Alphonse could have smiled—he would have.
"I love you, too, Brother. You know that, right?"
There was a quiet thunk as Edward leaned over, tilting himself until his head had clanked against Alphonse's arm. Although it might have hurt, the younger Elric could see that in doing it, Edward had managed to tactfully hide his face with both his bangs and the metal.
Because, if he was feeling the tremor from his brother's body right—he knew what Edward didn't want seen.
After all, it was what Edward had needed to hear—needed to feel—all along. It was something Alphonse knew his brother didn't allow himself to think others felt for him—because he believed too strongly in his own shortcomings. It was the reason why Edward would keep on giving and giving and giving until he had nothing left to give—because something in him kept trying and trying and trying to earn it—it had been the very reason we tried to bring back Her at all, hadn't it?—once more, and was always, always failing. Falling short. Stumbling, tripping, and sometimes even crashing.
Or at least, Brother thinks he always fails. Thinks himself too unworthy of it.
But he isn't.
And the only cure was to finally make him realize it. Or, if not realize it—to at least be aware of it, even if just for a moment.
It was a long time, sitting there on the riverbank, until Edward finally sat up, wiping his face clean with the sleeve of his red coat. Alphonse, wisely, chose not to comment on the tears, and instead kept his focus on the river before him, hoping beyond all hope that his brother would always remember "That One Day"—even if that was all this would be, an ambiguous reference to that one moment in which Edward Elric finally felt loved. But if Alphonse had succeeded in that much, then even if his brother still ended up choosing to bear the burden of the world on his lonely shoulders once more, he knew, in a way, that he could still count this as a victory.
Even if he still chose to isolate himself, at least he would know he had friends.
But then, quite abruptly, Edward stood up.
Curious, his train of thought completely broken by this unforeseen act, Alphonse watched as his red-clad brother then began to walk away—something similar to a new purpose in his uneven steps, even as he marched onward back to headquarters.
"Brother?" he called, moving to rise and follow the twin of his heart. "Where are you going?"
"Don't worry, Al. I'll be back. I just…have to do something, first. Y'know. Won't be long."
Worry clutched at the younger Elric, but he obeyed, slowly lowering himself back down to the riverbank ground again. This wasn't how he had thought it would go—how he had planned for it to end.
But that was okay, because in a way, he had felt that Edward would do something he wasn't expecting once it was finally over—
—oh, but, good gracious, what was he doing?
Colonel Mustang looked up with idle interest at first when he heard (and felt) the door to his office open and then slam shut. But upon seeing it was once again the Fullmetal Alchemist—probably come to make me take back my words earlier today, ha—he decided it wasn't worth anything more than a teasing grin as he bowed his head back over his desk, continuing to try and get through his accumulating mountain of papers.
"What is it now, Fullmetal?" he asked lazily, flipping a signed sheet aside once it was done, and pulling forward another one.
There was a tense, uncertain pause—one that made Mustang freeze for a moment in confusion—after all, where is that witty remark?—before the boy's voice then hissed at him, embarrassed and falsely angry. "This doesn't leave the office—and don't take this out of context, you pervert."
Now that made him raise his head, completely baffled. "What are you—"
He didn't know when Ed had made it to his side instead of his usual spot in front of his desk—but he realized it the instant he felt two mismatched limbs wrap themselves around him in an awkward, stiff embrace.
And immediately, all words—all comebacks—all jokes—were lost.
And for some people, it's the only way they know how to say it.
Crystal's Notes: "…or sometimes when you mean it most—hugging works." I don't quite know where this came from, but it was written in a flurry. A very determined flurry, because I haven't been so attached and focused on a piece in so long—I've forgotten what this passion feels like when it's running from my brain and through my fingers.
I also felt like Edward needs love. As well as a certain Colonel of ours—because they're both very similar, don't you think? They both don't think they deserve it, and that's why they'll give.
I think everyone needs a "That One Day," or at least to provide a "That One Day" for someone who needs it. Love doesn't always mean lust—it doesn't always mean kissing. Love can mean intimacy in a completely different way—in that kind of passionate, devoted way that surpasses intense physical contact and relies on two or more hearts simply being compassionate for one another.
"I love you," doesn't always mean, "I give you my heart, my dearest one."
It can also mean, "I know your heart, my friend. And it is good."
Which is I think more so what they are saying here than anything else. 8D So, with that said, have a good day!
And—I love you!