Solace in Similarity
Ed had lost hope. For the past two years, he'd sought a way to return to Amestris, but still remained here in the bleak country known as Germany. His father remained as distant as ever, spending his time with his new friends in some 'Thule Society.' The bastard didn't spend any time at all with his own son, but then, when had he? He had begun to rot and had left Ed and Al to live with their dying mother all alone. Ed fully blamed Hohenheim for his current situation. Had he stayed, they wouldn't have tried to bring back their mom and they would have remained whole. The homunculi and Philosopher's Stone would have become somebody else's problem. Focusing on the past did nobody any good, but Ed couldn't help it. Solitude would do that to a person.
At first, he'd thought that he could deal with it, but he knew no one (his father aside) here. Ever since the failed transmutation that had cost his arm, leg, and brother's body, Al had been Ed's constant companion. His absence now constantly filled Ed with a sense of loss. He also found himself missing the other people they had met on their journey, even the constantly antagonistic Roy. How had things turned out back home? Probably better than they had here. Oberth had provided no help and Ed had pored though countless scientific journals for another potential way back home to no avail. The 'Thule Society' of which his father was so enamored seemed to be the closest bet, but as Ed had never had a fondness for religion, he was hesitant to join. Spirituality wouldn't open the way home by itself. Over the past years, he had hoped fervently for the way to become clear, but had met with no success.
As Ed walked half-heartedly towards the library to do more research that would likely prove fruitless, a person walking the other way caught his eye. He looked like Al, or at least, what Al would likely look like now. He had the blond hair, the striking eyes (even if they were a different color), and felt 'right.' He knew that everybody back home had a reflection here (after all, he had initially inhabited his double's body before it had died by zeppelin), but he couldn't help but gape. This Al smiled good-naturedly and when he spoke, he spoke with more mature version of Al's voice.
"What, do I have a cat growing out of my chest or something?" he said, laughing.
"No, no, sorry. It's just...you look like someone I once knew."
"Maybe I'm that person, come back to haunt you. Boo!"
"I wish you were. No, that person's a world away. Maybe more than that."
"Trouble between you?"
"Between us finding each other. I keep trying to reach him, but I can't...I'm holding you up, aren't I? I shouldn't force my problems on you."
"Don't worry about it. I've got time, and contrary to what you might think, not every stranger is a cold, callous person caring only about themselves. I was just on my way home, you want to come along, have some tea?"
Ed smiled. This world's Al was just as gentle and caring as his own brother. If only to try to recapture the feeling of companionship, he nodded.
"Good. It can get lonely drinking by oneself. I'm Alphonse Heiderich, by the way."
"Edward Elric." Ed responded, following.
As they sipped their tea and talked, it warmed Ed, but the warmth had another element. He finally had someone he could speak with, someone who would listen to his problems. And this world's Al did just that, listened and expressed his sympathy. He must have felt disbelief in Ed's story, but none of it bled into his speech. It remained free of cynicism, never indulgent or condescending. Just frank kindness and understanding that gave Ed a sense of belonging for the first time since he'd arrived here. With it came the alien thought that not getting home might not be as horrible as it had seemed. Granted, he'd like to if he could, but if not, he'd have at least one friend he could lean on to help him enjoy himself here. They finished the tea and spoke for another half-hour or so before Ed stood to take his leave.
"Thanks for listening to me. You don't know how good it felt to get that all off my chest."
"You can stay longer if you want, you know."
Ed shook his head and hugged Al. "Thanks again. We should keep in touch."
"I intend to. You've got too much pain bottled within you." With that, Al returned the hug and didn't let go, bending his head down to begin nibbling on Ed's ear.
"Al..." Ed said uncertainly.
Conflicting feelings warred within Ed. On one side, his senses cried out to him that he couldn't do this, that it wasn't right to have this kind of relationship with his brother. The other side called just as strongly, appealing to his loneliness and his pain, to his devotion to Al. He couldn't take the risk of losing the only friend he had made during his time here. Couldn't take the risk of losing Al again. Even if he wasn't the Al that Ed knew, he was still Al and Ed would feel incomplete without him. He allowed Al to lead him to the bedroom.
Next, the fic sailormac requested, another post-series fic, this one focusing on Al, who begins to recall his lost memories after viewing the armor he was bonded to for so long. Thowing the time fifteen years into the future made this the more difficult mini-fic to write, which also ended up mutating from my original idea and becoming rather lengthy. But as with the other mini-fics I've done, I wrote until I felt that I had satisfied what I set out to do. In this case, it just took a fair bit longer to do so. Again, there be spoilers. (2,781 words)
Lost and Found
After many years of Roy's pushing, the Military Museum of Amestris had finally opened. It served both as a reminder of and an apology for the atrocities that the army had committed before governmental control had passed to the Parliament. Al had come in the hope that something within would suggest a way to find his brother. Fifteen years had passed, and while others had described the four years of memory he had lost, nothing sounded familiar. At first, he had believed them but over the past ten years had begun to doubt their story. That's exactly what it seemed like. A story that incorporated real-world events. Where were the homunculi that had caused so much trouble? The city under the city? More rational explanations probably explained the real-world elements, ones that would have caused him significant trauma had he initially been told the truth. His burned down house: arson. Roy's eye patch: a nasty bar brawl or sickness. Ed's disappearance: a brutal murder. Despite his demands to know what really had transpired, though, they never changed their story.
The museum confirmed his doubts. It documented the Ishbal massacre and the almost-massacre of Lior, but the supposed causes had no presence. No mention of the homunculi. No mention of the Philosopher's Stone. No mention of his brother. Just a documented chain of events caused by more natural elements. Still effective, as it made no attempt to play down the mindless slaughter, but lacking the details that everyone had told him were true. The people he trusted had indeed lied to him, and even though he had suspected that truth, it didn't hurt any less. Tears came unbidden to his eyes as he pushed past the divider separating the offices from the rest of the building. Without knocking, he opened the door bearing the plaques 'Roy Mustang, Curator' and 'Riza Hawkeye, Assistant Curator.'
"You lied to me! Nothing here backs up what you've told me!"
"It may seem that way, but we haven't. The decision to excise that material from the record wasn't ours," Roy replied, shuffling through the multitude of papers on his desk before Riza handed him the page he searched for. "I quote,"
'While we recognize the significance of the events leading up to the military actions in Ishbal, Lior, and the Fifth Laboratory, we cannot allow the nature of said events to become public knowledge. Such an action would be irresponsible and would cause much panic on behalf of the populace. For that is the reaction most would have upon learning that there may be nonhumans among themselves. We know you do not have to be told that the truth has many shades. You were in the military; you have first-hand experience. We authorize your museum fully and feel it is a noble effort. This the members of the Parliament have decided.'
"But if there's enough evidence to show the validity of your story, why haven't you shown it to me?"
"There isn't. People don't need evidence or explanation if the source has authority. Most of the military had no idea of the corruption contained therein. The populace trusts whatever the newspapers report."
"So there's still nothing you can show me to prove what you've told me?"
Roy gave a small smile. "Just because there's not enough evidence doesn't mean there's none, though until recently, it would have. Granted, it's just one piece, but I could show you if you'd like."
"Good. I needed a break anyway. Riza, you can take care of things here, right?"
"I'm not going to do your paperwork."
Roy twirled his hand in acknowledgement as he led Al to the basement. Riza sighed.
Flickering lightbulbs dimly lit the small room to which Roy led Al. On a pedestal in the center stood a tall, if somewhat rusted, suit of armor. The suit of armor, if he could believe what they had told him. It certainly didn't look anything other than aged; nothing about it spoke of its alleged significance. Despite this, Al felt drawn to it, a pull rooted somewhere in his unconscious.
He approached the armor with some trepidation. Would touching it bring back his memories, and if so, did he really want them back? What if his ignorance of the truth was really a blessing? Al shook his head. No, he had lost four years of his life, four years of time spent with his brother. Even if regaining those didn't give him any clues on how to find Ed, he would at least have them back. Whatever pain he incurred from remembering would be worth finally knowing the truth. His true fear lay in the possibility that nothing would happen, that the affinity he felt for the suit existed solely in his mind. Before he could reflect further, however, he had reached out and placed his hand on the cool metal.
Nothing happened. Al let out a stifled cry and beat his hands against the armor. The memories would remain buried. He had foolishly hoped that the relic of his past would somehow restore everything that he had lost. He soon exhausted himself and rested his tear-streamed face against the target of his rage, silently berating himself for raising his expectations without reason. As he composed himself, he noticed that he had knocked the suit's headpiece somewhat askew, revealing the faint, rust-obscured outline of what could only be the blood seal. He wiped the tears from his eyes and gently rubbed away the rust.
Doing so triggered a tingling sensation throughout his body akin to a limb falling asleep, but Al's attention remained focused solely on the faded seal. After he had cleared away the rust, he began absently tracing the pattern with his thumb, which resulted in the tingling switching to an overwhelming burning. He pulled his hands away and took a few steps back, yet the feeling continued unhindered by the lack of contact. He threw a quick glance towards Roy, thinking fleetingly that he had set him on fire before noting that the pain had subsided when he had withdrawn his gaze from the armor. When his eyes naturally returned to the suit to satisfy their curiosity, the pain came back with a vengeance, focusing on his head rather than his body.
Al gave a tortured scream as a torrent of unfamiliar images plowed through his mind, stopping only when blessed darkness enfolded him in its embrace.
Al's dreams, however, offered no release. He tossed and turned restlessly in his bed as the memories played themselves over and over. Disembodied black hands dissolved his flesh countless times. A man with an eye patch endlessly thrust a sword into his chest cavity, killing the person hiding within. His maimed brother got equipped with automail repeatedly. A scarred man sacrificed his arm numerous times to save his life. An androgynous man unceasingly impaled Ed on his arm. Tears flowed down his cheeks as the images continued their vicious cycle.
When he woke some hours later, however, he could recall none of the images. They had fled beyond even the domain of half-remembered dreams, leaving behind only a vague feeling of sadness. No matter how hard he tried to recall what the dreams had contained, the facts remained just out of reach.. What he did know was that they contained the years he had lost. He might not recall the exact details, but he did remember the stream of images that had triggered his restless sleep. So now that the memories resided repressed somewhere in his mind, the question of how to incorporate them with the rest of his knowledge remained. He thought he had the answer.
"Are you okay?" Riza asked, interrupting his thoughts and letting him know he wasn't alone.
He nodded. "See if Schiezka remembers how to do hypnosis."
"Even if she doesn't, all she'll have to do is read a book and she'll know it again. Hypnotic regression didn't work before, though."
"That's because there wasn't anything to regress to. Now there's something filling the four year gap. It's just blocked from my consciousness."
"Even if your experience in the basement put your memories back," this from Roy, "don't you think there's a reason that you still can't recall those four years? If we're right, Ed sacrificed those four years in addition to himself to restore you to your present state. If such a large trade took place, doesn't it make sense that one just as large would have to occur for you regain your lost years?"
"What are you saying?"
"I'm simply wondering if you're taking all the possible outcomes into consideration."
"If people did that, there would never be any progress. Sometimes you have to take risks."
"Risks that might result in trauma for the people close to you? You've already got plenty of people here who care about you."
"I don't have Ed."
"Getting back your memories isn't going to bring him back."
"No, but I'd at least know for sure what happened to him."
"At what cost, though? You're not--" he stopped as Riza put her hand on his shoulder and shook her head.
"It's his choice, Roy, and as it seems he shares his brother's stubbornness, you probably wouldn't be able to stop him. I'll go talk to Schiezka."
Al's sleep remained troubled for the couple of days that it took for those closest to him to arrive at Central. They would supposedly serve as moral support, a sort of grounding device that would help to bring him out of his own mind. Considering how frazzled and tired the lack of sleep made him look, Al felt pretty confident that he wouldn't want to stay any longer than necessary, but their presence was comforting nonetheless. It also briefly made him doubt his decision to go under hypnosis. What if doing so ended up hurting them, as Roy had tried to tell him it might? His argument certainly made sense; in the end, almost anything boiled down to equivalent trade. But choosing not to try the hypnosis left him with the dream-filled, restless sleep. If the lack of sleep didn't drive him crazy, it would certainly kill him, which would still cause his friends pain. Better to choose the option with an uncertain ending than the one terminating in insanity or death.
Before turning his attention to Schiezka, he took a few moments to take in the faces of those who stood in the room in case he didn't see them again. Winry, Izumi, the Tringham brothers, Roy, Riza, and numerous other former military officers who had befriended him comprised their number. He gave them what he hoped was an optimistic smile and held back tears as he focused his senses on the litany Schiezka recited. Given his body's exhaustion, he had no trouble sinking into the relaxed trance state. His eyes closed and he began drifting.
"Al, I want you to go back to the time when you and Ed tried to bring back your mother." her voice slid through the haze, soothing and pleasant, compelling him to listen.
"I'm trying, but there's something blocking me."
"Go through it, Al. You're intangible now, an independent thought in a realm of your own thoughts. You can slip right past."
He tried again and found it allowed him passage without resistance, leaving him crouched next to his brother on the fringe of the transmutation circle they had drawn. Upon seeing the scene, he knew what would happen next. Didn't want to watch it, didn't want to have to see it again. But the memory had bound him tightly within it; he couldn't shut it out, couldn't change it, had to re-enact it. When it had ended, tears flowed freely from his cheeks, but the next memory had already arrived. Over and over he relived the most traumatic moments of his life, ending with Ed's death and Al's own sacrifice to save him. Yet when that one had played out, a series of happier ones took him into their embrace. He and Ed traveled together, happy in their companionship. Nothing could make it better. He could stay in the same moment forever and remain pleased.
"Al, you need to wake up. The place you're at now isn't real."
Al gave no response, hadn't done so in an hour of trying to bring him out of the trace. He had a smile on his face and spoke as if carrying on a conversation with his brother. Despite the direct pleas to him from many of the people in the room, he remained deep within. Sometimes he replied and told them of his happiness, other times he simply didn't say anything at all. Schiezka didn't know how to bring him out, either. The books she read mentioned Al's state, but none of them told of how to end it.
"Why don't we shock him out of it?" Winry suggested.
"The books say that if we do that, he could go insane."
"Then how do we bring him back?"
"I don't know. The books don't say! If we keep talking--"
"He'll keep responding the way he is now. We need to do something. The books only say could, right? Not will?" Roy interrupted.
"Then we'll give it a try."
He grabbed a book from Schiezka's arms, ignoring her look of horror when he set it on fire. He then proceeded to hold Al's hand over the burning pages.
The road down which he and Ed walked lay blanketed in snow, but Al felt none of the chill that such weather should have produced. Quite the opposite, really. He had begun to sweat and expected the snow to start melting at any instant. It didn't, but the heat continued to increase. With it came a dull pain in his hand and voices that sounded vaguely familiar. The voices he could tune out; they'd been present before, had tried to take him from his brother. The pain, however, continued to intensify and forced Al to relinquish his mental paradise. It fell away and his eyes fluttered open, returning him to the reality in which flames burned his hand. He jerked it away and looked around in confusion for a few moments before remembering where he was. More importantly, he could vividly recall the events of his missing years. The hypnosis had worked, and the only price he'd have to pay lay in a slightly tender palm.
"It worked. It really worked. I shouldn't have doubted you. I'm sorry," When the smiles of sympathy and relief generated by this statement morphed back into expressions of worry, however, Al's good spirits dimmed. "What's wrong?"
He raised his hands in front of his face, surprised at the truth of the statement. Small black tendrils ending in hands wrapped around and caressed his fingers, leaving behind nothing but air as they over his flesh. This had happened before; the Gate was claiming his body. He struggled against the intangible waifs, but despite their lack of substance, breaking free proved impossible, as he knew it would. The end, then. No Ed to save him this time.
Idiot! he thought to himself, Salvation doesn't need to be Ed, it just needs to be alchemy. But I can't ask them to sacrifice themselves for my sake.
"Al! The armor?" Roy asked, obviously thinking along the same lines.
Al nodded mutely before responding. "The blood seal is still there. It should just need to be retraced. You don't have to do it, though."
"He's not. I'll do it." Izumi said, stepping forward.
"No. You've got problems enough already. Besides, this is my fault. I didn't stop Al from going through with this, and then I forcibly removed him from the trance state. It's my responsibility."
With that, he left the room, giving nobody else a chance to respond.
"Thank you." Al whispered between sobs as the bodiless hands continued taking his body.
After that, Al didn't know the exact course events had taken, but Roy had wound up with an automail left arm and Al had woken up re-bound to the suit of armor some hours later, all memories intact. One in particular captivated Al's interest. In the underground city, Dante had drawn an alchemy array on Roze's baby, an array that seemed to summon the Gate. If it truly represented a gate in more than name, something lay on the other side. Maybe somewhere. Where Ed was.
I'll find you, brother. Wait for me. Al thought as he looked out the window before returning to researching the array. I'm coming.
Notes: I figured that fifteen years of having to take somebody's word for truth without proof would serve to make anyone doubtful. Hence why I didn't portray Al as the naive and gullible character we're familiar with (and really also because fifteen years would eliminate most of those traits anyway). Roy pushing for the museum made sense to me since we see during the series that he is quite remorseful about his own participation in the Ishbal massacre. As I said initally, projecting the world fifteen years into the future was somewhat difficult. The main thing I don't like about this one is how casual the characters are with one another, but I suppose there'll always be at least one thing I don't like about anything I write.
Hope you enjoyed them, and since they're fun and wouldn't get written otherwise, should anyone else like a mini-fic, I'll still take requests. As before, I'll write just about anything. Just comment with what you'd like to see and I'll give it my best shot. I'm out!