May 9, 1914
"Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation."
The complex was utterly silent. Not a breath of wind stirred the thick layer of dust which blanketed the floor boards of the second story bedroom. The soft pattering of mice running about from one side of the room to the other was, thankfully, muffled by the dusty wood. Not a sound could be heard within the four compressed corners and, for that, its occupant was grateful.
The room wasn't anything spectacular: just a place to stay for the night. The aged windows were cracked slightly to allow the cool breeze to kiss the soft skin of the sleeping figure on the bed, around which, the thin sheets where wrapped so tightly that the boy was almost indistinguishable. Over the course of the night, the scratchy material had wound itself tightly around the body as he had restlessly tossed and turned with the violence of his nightmare, crying out softly again and again. His eyebrows were knit tightly together and, though the child's eyelids were pressed together as much as they could be, the tears still managed to find an escape and seeped onto his quivering cheeks.
With a start, Alphonse Elric shot up straight on the mattress, which groaned loudly beneath him. His frightened eyes darted quickly around the room, taking in the rustic surroundings which, as he well knew, weren't the same in appearance as the extravagant ballroom that continuously plagued his nightmares. As he studied the peeling wallpaper and inhaled the musty scent of his rented bedroom, his ragged breathing began to slow until, finally, he was able to get enough oxygen back into his brain and think clearly.
The small boy breathed a jarred sigh of relief, before the pain overtook him as it always did, following the dream. With a sharp cry, he flung himself back down on the mattress and began to sob uncontrollably. For Al, the aftermath of the nightmares was always the worst part.
Sure, he could handle the steady replaying of his memories against the back of his eyelids; he could handle seeing his only brother, the one who had stuck by him for so long, being pierced with that sudden blade and dying slowly in front of him again and again. Alphonse could even power through the terrifying moment when he would wake from the memory and struggle to remember how to breathe, the intensity of it all chilling him to his very core. He could handle all of this.
What he couldn't bear... was reality.
He would calm himself down, absorbing the callousness of his new setting and reminding himself that it was only a dream. Calm down, Al. It's only a nightmare. It wasn't real... You're safe. You're safe.
Not a moment later, however, the inaccuracy of what his mind had been telling him would begin to seep into his cerebellum, screaming at him from the inside. The reality of the situation would crash down on his shoulders, nearly splitting his mind open from the sheer pain in his soul. Because it was at these times when Alphonse remembered that it wasn't just a dream.
When the brothers had been young, they had once overheard a tall-tale which an old farmer had been telling down at the market place in Resembool. While Edward had reminded his brother again and again that what the man had said was only a story, Al still wasn't able to erase the images from his mind and continuously had nightmares for many years to follow. Each night, following the night terror, Edward would climb into bed with Alphonse, hold him close, and whisper in his ear:
"Nothing can harm you, Al. You'll always be safe while I'm around, don't forget that, okay? Nothing can touch you, nothing can hurt you... Not while I'm still here. That's how it's always been... and that's how it'll always be..."
"But you were wrong, Brother..." the broken whisper escaped his lips before Al could stop it. As soon as the tears had dried, new ones began to fill his eyes. You said you would always be here... But, now...
Edward had always been there for Al, picking him up when he fell, always making him feel equal under their mother's gaze... His entire life, Edward had dedicated everything he did, everything he accomplished, to Al. Even after committing the taboo, the first priority in his brother's mind had been to return Alphonse to normalcy first and foremost.
I just had a nightmare, Brother... Where are you now?
He isn't there. Al chided himself again and again to remind himself of the fact that his brother was no longer there to hold him as he cried, or chase away his fears. Edward was no longer there to whisper those ancient reassuring promises in his ear... This was the part of the night terror that was always the most painful to endure: the realization that the nightmare had, in fact, been real, and that his brother would never again be there beside him when he woke up sobbing each night.
Trembling, Al wiped his tear-filled eyes with the sleeve of his nightshirt and stood from the bed, stripping his pajamas from his body as he limped to the shower. The cold night air hit his bare skin like a freight train, but Alphonse couldn't be bothered by such a trivial thing. After all, Edward no longer worried about such matters... Why should he be any different?
He sighed, cranking the shower faucet around before he stepped into the warmth behind the curtain, allowing his mind to numb itself against the onset of emotions which had begun to claim him. He listlessly stood in the shower stall, letting the hot flowing water droplets cascade over his body, relaxing even his tensest of muscles, and conceded to the pressing memories of that night.
Behind closed eyes, he watched again and again as Edward reappeared in the brightly lit ballroom, a glint in his eye revealing his preparedness to finish what he had started. He relived his brother's battle with the odious creature who had called himself "Envy". He recalled the fight down to every missed attack, every word spoken... right down to when Edward had managed to finally pin the beast to the floor and lunge in for the final strike. He remembered the blade... That which had been concealed from the human eye until the perfect moment to strike.
To this day, Al couldn't fathom what had made his brother hesitate. Alphonse couldn't understand what had made him falter in his attack... He never saw it coming.
With a start, Alphonse felt his body jar violently, causing his eyes to open and the quietness of the night to settle on his body once more. He slowly reached to shut off the water, which had long ago turned to ice beyond his level of awareness. His body trembled, lips tinted an icy blue to match his toes and fingertips as he stood, shivering in the cold night air.
Alphonse undecidedly remained that way for a while longer, trembling visibly in the frigid air, unable to recall how to use his legs. He no longer saw the shower walls, no longer heard the chattering of his teeth... he was back in his memories, absorbed by the sensation of it all.
Edward lay there, dying in his arms... No, not dying. Dead. He was already gone... The blood from the gaping hole in his torso soaked through the alchemist's thin shirt and began to seep through the cracks in Al's armor, staining it a sickening crimson. Edward's eyes were opened wide, staring desperately at the empty air behind his brother's head, unmoving... unblinking... unseeing. Dead. Cold. Dead.
Fresh tears threatened to spill over at the memory of his brother's unmoving, cold body wrapped tightly in his arms. I can fix him, he had decided at the time. I can bring him back..
But no matter what alchemy he tried at that point in time, Edward was gone and couldn't be saved. The only thing Alphonse had managed to bring back from beyond the Gateway, had been his own body. He hadn't been able to bring back Edward, his only brother. Alphonse had stared relentlessly at the boy's chest, begging for it to move with the breath of life... The life of his brother... returned to the earth.
But Edward's body had only begun to grow colder...
And so, too, had Alphonse Elric's heart...
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