Characters: Al, Winry
Timeline: Right before the movie?
Disclaimer: Not mine.
I have no idea what's up with cosplay!Al (Al dressing exactly like Ed at the end of the trailer). I'm not even sure I believe it! There are many possible explanations for why he's like that, so I decided to take a stab at my own in the form of a fanfic. It's a pretty extreme and probably unbelievable idea, but it wouldn't leave me alone; I wrote this really quickly because I should be studying for an exam.
Winry started to worry about Al the day he found a pair of Ed’s old gloves and decided to stitch alchemy sigils onto the palms. There weren’t any sewing needles in the house, but Al was adamant enough to walk two miles and knock on dozens of doors before he found a woman who’d give him what she had. Black thread, several needles, a colored pencil for lightly outlining the designs—he took all of it and ran back home, locked himself in his room, and set about transforming the gloves into a pair that would have reminded him of Kimbley’s tattooed hands had he remembered Kimbley.
“You could’ve just drawn directly on the gloves with something more permanent,” Winry said when he came back out and insisted on showing her his handiwork.
“He’ll want these back,” Al said quietly, slipping both gloves on. Winry was surprised to see that they fit him well; she thought Ed would have had smaller hands than his brother. “I’ll give them back. It’ll be easy enough to break the stitches.”
It had been months and nothing had changed. Winry had already started worrying about whether or not she would ever see Ed again, and now she had to worry about Al too.
Al said he didn’t remember everything that had happened, but soon after he made those gloves, he started to grow his hair out and Winry had to look twice; she thought she was seeing the ghost of someone she hoped was not yet dead. There weren’t many pictures of Ed around—he always got angry and stormed off when someone complained that he was too short and needed to stand on his tiptoes to be in frame—but there were some, and Al must have studied them to get his bangs to mimic Ed’s layered bangs that perfectly. She never actually found him looking over one of those pictures, but he locked his door every night and she wondered what it was he was hiding from Pinako and her.
“You know, I really miss some of the stuff we used to do when we were kids,” Winry said a month later.
The sun had just set and the stars were already out in full view. When they were kids, they’d sit outside together and watch for shooting stars or run around and try to collect as many fireflies as possible in an allotted amount of time. Now it was just Al and Winry, standing some meters away from the house, looking up, a respectable distance apart.
“I remember,” Al said and relished in the ability to remember. He reached up as if to grab a clutch of the stars and his gloved hand closed around nothing. “Niisan wanted to make a net that’d capture the moon so he could give it to you, right? Like in that one fairytale okaasan told us.”
Winry grinned and looked at Al, who was still focused on the stars. It was weird how dark his eyes became when he was steeped in nighttime: they took on the same burnt gold color as his brother’s. “Right,” she replied, chuckling, “but then I said he’d never get it because he was too much of a shorty to ever be able to catch the moon, net or not.”
Al suddenly looked down at her and his eyes were intense, glittering with an emotion she almost mistook as joy—but then realized was anger. Al was angry.
“Niisan wasn’t that short,” he said icily.
Winry blinked. “I was just teasing, but he was still shorter than me.”
“He wasn’t incredibly, impossibly, unbelievably short to the point of microscopic size, Winry!”
“What is your problem?” Winry demanded, bewildered. “You sound just like—”
“Forget it!” Al yelled, turning on a heel to stalk back to the house.
In the morning he asked Pinako if she could do anything about the rusted clasp on one of Ed’s worn black jackets, which he must have stashed in a dresser and forgotten about years back. Al wanted to pull it apart and see if he could clean the rust off, since he’d have to get a new clasp if the metal wasn’t salvageable.
When he refused to drink milk at breakfast, Winry nearly tore her hair out from sheer frustration and disbelief. The boy sitting across from her had his arms folded and eyes averted; the unruly bangs had started to spill over his eyes just a little bit. Pretty soon he would be able to pull his hair back into a ponytail—or a braid, she realized—and his hairstyle would be an exact replica of his brother’s. This disturbed her on some fundamental level. The hairs on the back of her neck rose and she subsequently backed down from the milk issue. It was just too weird.
Al didn’t tell her about the nightmares until he woke up screaming weeks later and Winry had to disassemble the doorknob to get into his room because she thought he was dying. Pinako was away from home, getting basic metal parts, and it was just the two of them in that hot, stifling room. The air was dusty and smelled moth-eaten—Al must have not opened the window even once—and there were papers and books and clothing scattered everywhere. Winry stepped over an old red cloak that Al was almost finished darning and a plate of half-eaten chicken from three dinners ago before she could make it to his bedside.
He was crying, pushing at his tears, saying all sorts of things that barely made it past his throat. Some of those things scared her. He dreamt about his brother, gates, purple eyes, darkness, his mom, being ripped apart, something called Ein Sof, inerasable sins, blindness, dismembered limbs, war, glyptography, the Oroborus, blood, death, true knowledge, infinity, nothingness . . . and it was all too much, just too much . . . and he had to get away from it or else he’d go insane. He wanted his brother back. He wanted Ed back so much, because Ed had gone through it too and he understood and he’d help and oh God, oh God Winry I just can’t take this anymore why did he have to sacrifice himself for me I just want things to be the way they were before I have to find him please oh please I can’t I can’t I I I I can’t breathe!
It was enough to make Winry cry too, but she set her jaw and started pushing all of Al’s stuff aside to make a path to the window and open it up. The rush of cool air was immediate and assuaging, but Al continued to hold tightly onto his bent knees and cry.
“It aches when it’s going to rain,” he sobbed. “It hurts so much.”
In the distance there were thunderclouds gathering, black and blue like a bruise. Winry didn’t look away from them. “What does, Al?”
Winry was too spooked to stay in that room any longer, no matter how much she wanted to comfort him.
Hours later, Al came into the kitchen pulling on the red coat with its curled serpent on the back and the gloves with their alchemical sigils on the palms. He was trying to smile, really trying, as he finally hopped into a pair of plain brown boots (the only part of his ensemble different from what Ed wore) and got out the orange juice. He was going someplace. Winry blew on her hot tea and didn’t want to ask what was going on, but she did anyway.
“I’m leaving for Central,” Al replied.
Winry wrinkled her nose and was about to say something regarding the ill-mannered way he drank straight from the bottle when his response threw her off. “Central?”
“Yeah,” he said, wiping his mouth. “I’m going to take the State Alchemist exam.”
It was a different process now. Amestris had a parliament and the military wasn’t part of the decision-making; alchemists were no longer exclusively dogs of the military, human weapons, whatever. But there were still State Alchemists, still those with the silver watches: researchers and artisans, scientists and scholars, even if a fair share of them were waiting for the day war was declared anyway and they would be able to fight again. Winry went numb.
“You’re following in your brother’s footsteps,” Pinako said darkly, standing at the entrance to the kitchen with an armful of tools. “This is really sudden.”
“Mm. I’m not good with goodbyes,” Al said apologetically, “so I waited until the last minute.”
“I guess if that’s what you’re set on doing . . .”
Winry wanted to scream. Why was Pinako condoning this? Couldn’t she see what Al had done to himself? He didn’t just want Ed back—he wanted to be Ed, as if being him would make up for his absence!
“I promise I’ll call you guys when I get to the train station in Central.”
But Winry didn’t do anything. Al looked over at her, smiled crookedly, thanked them both for letting him stay, and went back up to his room to get his things together for the trip. He used the very same suitcase that Ed had whenever he traveled.
As she stood at the doorway alongside Pinako and watched him walk away, she hoped that he would somehow manage to find himself behind his disguise and put all of this to rest. When he came home—if he came home—she hoped that the suitcase he carried would be his own. She hoped for a lot of things. But then again, so did everyone else.