A/n: The meaning of the title is 'All Men Will Become Brothers'. It is taken from the famous poem (and later, composition) Ode to Joy.
Disclaimer: I do not own FMA.
Alle Menschen Werden Brüder
The winter brought with its bitter chill other problems for Edward. His prosthetics grew tight and cold, and sometimes in the morning he would wake up and find himself unable to move his artificial limbs for a while. Aside from that, the metal bit into his flesh as if trying to devour it, and it was painful to shift around. This particular night he was sighing and rubbing his eyes and wishing he could just fall asleep already. It had not been wise, he reflected belatedly, to drink two cups of strong coffee in the late afternoon as he pored over science textbooks and scratched notes in his spidery handwriting.
Drawing another sigh, he hauled himself out of bed, deciding he would make himself a cup of herbal tea, and made his way to the small kitchen that would be an utter mess were it not for his flatmate's near-obsession with cleanliness. Edward raised his head when he heard a soft but rhythmic sound coming from the dining room, and as he neared the kitchen he saw that the door was wide open, lamplight streaming from the inside, and that the rusty radio they owned was on, playing what he assumed was classical music: '...Was die Mode streng geteilt, alle Menschen werden Brüder, wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt...' Now that it was nearing what folk here called Christmas, music sprang from nearly every shop window, people sang carols, and churches sounded their bells more often than usual.
Edward could hear his flatmate now, singing quietly but with great enthusiasm as he pottered about the kitchen, and he tiptoed closer to find Alfons near the stove, placing two biscuits on a plate with a glass of steaming milk; Edward fondly remembered the other boy's habit of getting up at unholy hours to get himself something to nibble on. "What composition is that?" he asked with a certain amount of glee; Alfons predictably jumped about a foot in the air and turned round, face flushed. "Edward!" he said, looking somewhat peeved and placing a hand over his heart. "You enjoyed that, didn't you?"
"Honestly, yes," came the reply. Edward advanced to the cabinet and opened it, taking out a little porcelain jar and putting it on the counter. "You've a good voice, though – now, what was the song?" he pressed as he poured water in the kettle and set it over the fire. Alfons leaned against the counter and brushed the crumbs from his hands. "It's called 'Ode to Joy' – it's one of my favourites, actually."
"I thought it sounded familiar." He scooped a spoonful of peppermint tea into his cup, and arched a brow up at Alfons, who said, "It doesn't play very often, really."
Edward ignored the last statement and said thoughtfully, "Do you really believe that? Alle Menschen werden Brüder?" His voice was sceptical, and Alfons frowned. "Yes," he said slowly. "I do. Why? Don't you?"
He was silent for a while, and gazed at his friend. Wait, can you call a shadow a friend? "Not really. It seems kind of far-fetched."
"Hey, it's going to be Christmas – and your first in Germany, too. You should be more optimistic."
Edward snorted at the other's lack of logic. "Why should I be idealistic just because another day in another month in another year is nearing?" Then his face softened; he knew the day was special to people here, even if it wasn't for him. "Forgetting Christmas," he said gruffly (which was his way of apologising), "humans are too complicated to ever live in peace. On the whole, we like making things harder for ourselves, in a way. If we didn't, there'd be no war, no racism – and no taxes," he added for an attempt at humour.
Alfons opened his mouth to reply, but was cut off by the kettle whistling. Edward took it and poured the deliciously hot water into his cup, visibly looking forward to the drink. At length Alfons said lightly, picking up his own plate, "Well, I think the day will come, eventually."
Edward gave him a wry look that made him resemble a hawk. "We're in the middle of a war," he said, as if underlining the fact that the other thought that life was some kind of fairy-tale. Alfons picked up on the tone, and didn't like it. "I know that," he replied coolly, "but that won't stop me from hoping."
This earned a bitter laugh. "You hope too much, then, Alfons."
At that Alfons' fists curled loosely, but he said nothing, looking for all the world like a martyr at the gallows. Edward inwardly scoffed at his flatmate's childishness; yet he smiled and grunted and asked if the other wanted to sit down at the table. And, just like that, their argument was temporarily forgotten, and Alfons switched off the radio and they sat and drank together in companionable silence, occasionally sputtering for the cold that slithered in through the cracks in the windows.
Edward woke early the next day to birds heralding the dawn, and went to make himself breakfast, grumbling to himself about his lack of sleep. Scratching his head, he rummaged about for some bread, and found none. Just crumbs. Bewildered, he searched for the fruits he so enjoyed, and realised that they were also gone, and he raised an eyebrow. Was his appetite really that large? It had to be him who had made their food disappear, since Alfons ate like a sparrow, which wasn't healthy considering his slight, brittle frame and his susceptibility to illness.
In the end he settled on the sofa with a cup of coffee (he would never learn) and a newspaper, and lamented his groaning belly. When Alfons sauntered in, looking pale, with dark circles beneath his eyes, Edward immediately asked if they could go shopping. He would have gone alone, but he was out of cash, and the fruit-sellers at the stalls liked Alfons well enough to occasionally give him discounts.
Alfons looked at him wearily, and nodded, and Edward promised himself that he wouldn't be so careless with his money in future (he had spent his last pennies on a book that looked interesting but proved to be insipid, and he had nearly torn his hair out in frustration). To be honest, he was worried about Alfons' health; the man had a chronic cough which sometimes turned extremely nasty, and he couldn't walk two miles without wheezing like a bellows – no wonder he preferred cars. Initially Edward had thought that his flatmate was merely unfit, but suspicion gnawed at him and he eventually felt that perhaps it really was a medical issue.
As if to reiterate his thoughts, Alfons placed a fist over his mouth and barked dryly a few times. Edward reached over to thump him on the back, but the other raised a hand in protest, shaking his head.
Ten minutes later they were walking down the icy streets. It was snowing lightly, and the flakes landed gently but persistently on their shoulders, dampening their coats and making them shiver. Alfons wrapped his scarf around his neck so that all that was visible of him was a shock of crisp hair and a pair of large cyan eyes that gleamed with refreshing innocence. Edward often wondered at his flatmate's mildness that was so like Alphonse's. He decided that, the first thing a mother would think if she saw Alfons would be 'decent'. No, not mediocre, but morally upright. And unusually humble at that. Edward had long since determined that people who shouted out their morality were nothing but idiots who covered their cheapness with masks of sickly sweet virtue.
They stopped at a stall selling fruits and vegetables, and began to pick things they would need for the next week or so. Alfons selected a bagful of plums and some long green beans, and held them up to the stall-owner. "How much for these?" he asked, voice muffled by the scarf. The man behind the cart leant over and opened his mouth, but was cut off by a neighbouring stall-owner who was haggling loudly and offensively with a thin woman with a shawl about her shoulders. "I'm not offering regular prices to people like you," the elderly man was saying. "Go elsewhere if you want a bargain."
"But you're the only one who sells spices here!" the woman replied crossly. "How can you raise the price just for me? This isn't on."
"Didn't you hear me? I don't sell my precious stuff to thieving Jews." He turned his head and spat on the ground. The next moment he was being shouted at by a wrathful Edward, who in turn was being held back by Alfons, who was desperately trying to keep his balance; he was not very strong.
"What the hell, bastard?" Edward was saying. "You don't know if she's a thief or not! Just give her the damn spices and be done with it! It won't kill you."
"You foreigners," the astonished owner returned – he had never seen someone defend a Jew before, German or otherwise.
Alfons tugged at the sleeves of Edward's coat and said, "Stop it, Edward! You don't have to cause a scene! Just simmer down, will you?" Edward, enraged, flung his arm out and nearly struck the other across the face. Alfons staggered back as if he had really been hit and gasped, "God!"
Edward was sick of being patronised by Alfons about everything. "Damn it, Alfons, you hypocrite," he hissed, earning a shocked look. "Alle Menschen werden Brüder, huh? I don't see you trying to make that a reality!" All the praise his heart held for the boy froze and chipped away like cold ashes. "You call me pessimistic, but at least I'm not a coward who doesn't do anything about his dreams!" With that he turned his heel and ran, the entire street staring at him, and he heard the words 'Jew' and 'foreigner' hurled at him not a few times.
He felt as if he was running through a maze of buildings with no end, where the framework itself was an illusion and yet that was all there was. The noise about him became a distant buzz in his ear, and he tripped several times, though he did not fall. As he neared his apartment after about a quarter of an hour he paused, panting slightly, and caught sight of himself in a car window. He had never hated his reflection more in his life. If he had no reflection, if he looked into glass and saw nothing, he could be fully convinced that this world was not real, because he would not be real, yet this dream (if indeed dream it was) seemed to be intent on tormenting him.
Miss Gracia greeted him warmly, and he returned a smile that probably looked more like a grimace, and went up to the flat. After he had hung his coat up on one of the hangers on the door he trundled to the bathroom, and sighed when he saw himself in the mirror; he couldn't make out his face properly in the car window, but now he noted that his hair was sticking out like wisps of cotton, his ponytail was nearly undone, and his cheeks were flushed from the penetrating wind outside. He had no idea how Gracia hadn't asked how he was.
After washing his face he went to his bedroom, slipping off his waistcoat and throwing it on the chair by his desk, and fell onto the bed, too lazy to take off his shoes (his feet were luckily not on the mattress). He lay like that, lips pursed, musing. Alfons had done exactly what Al would, trying to stop Edward from being unnecessarily violent. "But Alfons isn't Al," he groaned to himself, turning round so his face was in the pillow. Still, that didn't give him a right to try and hit the man. Even so, Alfons was such a pushover; it irritated Edward no end.
All of a sudden there was a discreet knock on his door. "Edward?" Alfons called, his voice buzzing through the wood. Damn, when did he come in? "Ed, come out!"
Edward ignored him, sullenly raising his eyes to the window to distract himself. Don't call me Ed. Only family calls me Ed.
"Edwa - rd!" the German called somewhat weakly. Edward found himself wishing Alfons would go away.
Which the other did soon, seemingly giving up on him, and Edward was left alone to stew in his mood. He must have fallen asleep at some point, for he woke up, checked his watch and cursed; it was nearly quarter past five in the afternoon.
He rolled out of bed and went to the kitchen, and found unwashed dishes in the sink; Alfons had obviously finished his dinner without him, though when he looked closer he saw that there was only a pan, a spoon and a bowl. Just some soup, then.
Edward searched for the food he guessed Alfons had bought, and furrowed his brow when he realised that there was no extra food in the kitchen; it was as it had been in the morning. He went to the dining room and found the radio left on; it was buzzing softly, hardly enough for him to hear. Some music again. He switched it off and advanced to the wooden cabinet that held all their books, science or otherwise, deciding that, if he couldn't eat, at least he could read.
But the book he wanted wasn't there, and he realised with a jolt that Alfons had taken it to his room the day before. Tutting at his ill luck, he hesitated, wondering if he should (could) face Alfons right now. Then he shrugged and marched resolutely to his flatmate's bedroom door; it was Alfons' fault he was hungry, anyway. He could afford to disturb him.
Even so, out of habit, he rapped politely on the door and waited for a reply. He didn't get one. Was Alfons out? Frowning, he opened the door and saw that the lights were switched off and the curtain closed over the window. Alfons was abed, covers nearly totally obscuring his face; he was asleep. Edward walked carefully to the desk, trying not to make a noise, and smiled when he found the book he wanted. He picked it up and was about to go exit the room, but was stopped by the sound of Alfons' breathing. It was unusually raspy and dry. As if he was wheezing even in his sleep.
Mildly worried, Edward went over to the bed and pulled back the duvet, and raised his brows when he felt the other's clothes were damp, almost wet. Now truly anxious, he switched on the light, not caring if it annoyed Alfons, and shook him by the shoulder. Alfons awoke with a jolt, gasping, and proceeded to hack as if he intended to expel a lung. He sat up and groped for his handkerchief on the bedside table, and coughed into it for nearly half a minute. Edward watched as Alfons' oversized nightshirt almost slipped off one trembling shoulder, and was shocked at how thin he really was; his collarbones jutted out alarmingly, and in the glare of the light he could see shadows beneath the boy's cheekbones. How could he not have noticed this before?
Alfons' coughing slowed, and he wiped his mouth with his kercheif and crumpled the cloth in his hand, as if he did not want Edward to see it. "You told me once," he said abruptly, almost accusingly, clenching his fist around the soiled linen, "that this world could be a dream." He glanced up sharply at Edward, who had his lips pursed. "If that's so, why do you care? Why do you care about what happens to some woman on the street, or to me?" He averted his eyes. "Don't call me a hypocrite, Edward. I didn't hold you back because I don't give a hair about what happens to people; I held you back because you could have been arrested." He drew a long, somewhat hoarse breath. "Do you really think...I'm not real?"
Alfons rather unexpectedly took Edward's limp hand in his own and placed it on his dampened nightshirt, over his heart, which was beating steadily beneath the fragile ribcage. Looking Edward straight in the eye he said, "Tell me I'm not real, Edward. Say it to my face while you can feel my heartbeat."
Edward opened his mouth and closed it, at a loss for what to say, and scarcely able to bear the desperation in Alfons' eyes. He only believed what he could see and hear and feel. He could see Alfons and hear his breathing and feel his clammy hand over his, but still could not wholly, truly trust himself, and he knelt unsteadily by the bed, letting it support his weight. Slowly, the younger boy let go of his hand and said softly, "I can't believe you."
"Do you even care about me?" he pleaded quietly. "Do you even think of me as your friend?"
Edward put his head in his hands; he hadn't felt this upset in a long time. "Please, Alfons, stop it."
They looked away from each other and spoke not a word. After a while Alfons idly pulled back the thick green curtain, revealing that the window had been festooned with feathery frost. Edward lifted his head as the other boy tapped the glass with a finger, dispelling some of the intricate patterns. The snow was exceedingly lovely outside; a dusting of it could be seen on the tops of cars and on gabled roofs, and it rested comfortably in the cracks of grey pavements.
Yet Edward found it difficult to breathe, stood up on slightly shaky legs and, without another word, left the room. He went back to the dining room and sat on the window-ledge, not bothering to switch on the lights. It was dark out; the sky had been painted a calm cobalt-blue, and artificial light would disturb his thoughts. It didn't make much difference, though, when he heard Alfons come in and start to potter about. Edward heard him light the fireplace (he did not look away from the window), and then stoke it; a chair was then pulled from beneath the table. There was some shifting and shuffling, and then it became quite still.
Edward relaxed his shoulders and returned his attention to the scenery outside. A young girl was leading her little brother by the hand across the slippery street; two men argued over coins and cigarettes, their caps jammed low over their heads to protect their ears. It was exactly as it would have been in Central, save the snow. And yet...
What would his little brother say to all this if he were in this situation? Would he be like Edward, confused and lonely, or would he have some set opinion?Edward did not know.
He turned his head to find that Alfons had dragged a chair near the fireplace and had sat down languidly on it, a thick, tattered blanket swathed around his person. Edward slid off the pane and tiptoed closer to him, and found that Alfons had once again fallen asleep. The line of his mouth had softened, his expression peaceful, yet he looked older than his sixteen years, fatigued and weary. And his slippered feet were dangerously close to the fire. Edward shook his head, and hunkered down to take off the sandals. What are you doing? He's not your little brother. He had only slipped one off a slender foot when Alfons mumbled, "Hn – Edward?"
Edward looked up into the younger boy's face. Alfons had one eye cracked open, and his flaxen hair was sticking out at odd angles, almost matching the flames in their dance. They gazed at each other for a long moment, not speaking. Then Edward averted his eyes and took off the other slipper, indicating the fire with his chin, and Alfons raised his eyebrows and sighed as if to say, "Yes, that was stupid."
Edward did not move from his position. He had meant to take the slippers away and leave them in the foyer, but found himself unable to do so. Instead, he leant his head against the other boy's covered knee and struggled with tears. Damn everything. Damn, damn everything.
He felt a hand lightly caress his hair, and he bit his lip. Al, Al, Al...
"It's all right, Edward," Alfons was saying. "It's all right."
But what did he know about grief?
The 'he' in the last line refers to Alfons.
Before you ask, no, neither Edward nor Alfons is gay. There is nothing sexual going on here.
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