[Author] Mara D
[Series] Fullmetal Alchemist
[Pairing] EdxAl (No real mention of it yet, but it’s coming.)
[Rating] R so far.
[Spoilers?] Yes. AU. Picks up after the series ends. The movie can bite my butt because it doesn't exist as far as I am concerned. I am also taking a few tiny liberties with series facts, but it should not be that obvious.
[Chatter] When I first wrote this bit, I thought my idea was really lame, but it just kept happening this way no matter how I rewrote it. So I kept it, and then decided I liked it. A bit of supernatural reference here. Sorry if that ticks anyone off. ^_^;
Al refused to be parted from his savior for more than ten minutes at a time for the next few hours, sometimes reduced to momentary gibbering and whining despite the amount of alcohol that was floating around in his system. He was cold, exhausted, and hurting and it was something internal, nothing exterior that a pair of gentle hands and a bandage could fix.
Roy had forced another shot of whiskey down his throat, as well as several cups of scalding hot soup. He had parked Al in front of a blazing fireplace, and had wrapped him in a blanket. For the longest time, no one talked, and that boded no good. It certainly didn’t help Al feel better about the situation.
Al was still a trembling mess. Any time Roy so much as coughed or the cook in the kitchen clinked a dish in the sink he was on his feet, having to be coaxed back down to the armchair he occupied.
It was later, much later, when Roy finally knelt in front of Al, probably disgusted with the silence. The man certainly looked frustrated.
“What were you trying to do?” One gray eye asked him critically.
Al wasn’t recovered enough to take an attitude with Roy.
“Tell me what happened first.” Al asked, remembering Roy’s mouth on his own, strong arms holding him close, the familiar scent of the upholstery of Roy’s car.
Roy shook his head.
“If I tell you what happened, then you have to tell me why you did this.”
Al growled, but not with any real menace. “Fine.” He spat.
Roy settled in, making himself more comfortable.
“I called home to check on you, the housekeeper told me that you had gone out and not returned. I was concerned. I gathered Havoc and Hawkeye to assist me in searching for you. We went around town, asking if anyone had seen you, everyone told us that a young man meeting your description had headed into the countryside.
We were just past the city limits when the light caught out attention. There is only one sort of transmutation that is that brilliant…when we got there…you were barely conscious and struggling to get away from the center of the array. A black …tentacle…for lack of a better word, was dragging you towards the center. I torched it, and it released you, but you stopped breathing for several minutes. We thought you were dead.”
“You kissed me.” Al said reproachfully.
“I assure you, that was not a kiss.” Roy said blandly. “Now it is your turn.”
Al stared at the floor, balking and unable to meet Roy’s gaze.
“I had forgotten…how dangerous…it is there.” Al said softly.
“Obviously. The question is, what were you doing at the gate?”
“You know!? About the gate?!” Al gasped.
“Yes Alphonse, I do. Now tell me what you intended. The truth now.”
Al glanced up at Roy guiltily.
“You could have been hurt…you shouldn’t have bothered.”
“Goddamit Alphonse!” Roy barked suddenly. “I lost your brother and I will not lose you too.”
The bigger man reached out, grasping Al’s forearms and giving him a shake.
“Oh?!” Al said, recoiling in on himself unhappily “So that’s all I am, a guilty reminder of something you consider a personal failure?!” He tried to shake off Roy’s grip, to untangle from the blanket and flee, but Roy’s proximity wouldn’t allow him that.
Roy shoved him back down to the chair.
“You will sit and you will tell me the truth. You will not distract me from what I want to know, no matter what you say.”
“Don’t touch me.” Al hissed, bunching into the chair and getting as far away from Roy as was humanly possible.
Roy tried again to touch Al, and the blond alchemist flinched, growling and averting his eyes.
“Alphonse, damn you! Why? We would have helped you! Any of us!”
“Fuck you!” Al whispered lowly into the chair, hiding his face, trying to hide his tears.
Roy sighed then, taking a slow deep breath and counting to ten before he reached out and tried to brush the dampness away from Al’s cheeks. It was a rare day that one got a ‘fuck-you’ out of Alphonse Elric.
Al exploded in a flurry of motion, the punch had no force behind it, it was more a reflexive gesture than anything else.
It only pushed Roy back slightly, and it was enough to make Al stare in shock.
There was silence for a moment, Roy’s good eye tearing a bit from the halfhearted punch. The worst part about the blow had been that the splint seemed to have given him a good clip. Roy rubbed his jaw thoughtfully as he stood.
“I’m sorry.” Al whispered, the tears now freely spilling down his cheeks.
Oh shit he had just hit Roy Mustang…and Roy had been being /nice/. Al squinted his eyes shut then, flinching, expecting a blow in return. It never came. When Al hazarded opening one eye a hair, he watched Roy shake his head once. And obviously ignoring his instinct to leave Al to sulk in peace, he instead cautiously sat on the arm rest, reaching out to stroke away Al’s tears with the edge of his shirt sleeve.
“It’s nothing. That was my fault.” Roy said lowly, waiting for Al to thaw. After a while, the blond alchemist did, no longer flinching under the gentle touch. “Will you tell me why, please?”
The “please” sounded a bit pinched to Al, but it was still kind. Al took a shuddering breath, and then hazarded to lean into Roy’s touch, words suddenly spilling out.
“I was so afraid Roy…I’d forgotten and then I remembered…I just wanted to go to brother…I just wanted to go…” He blurted.
“I see.” Roy said, resting a gentle hand on Al’s shoulder, stopping him, letting him know that he didn’t have to say any more if he didn’t want to. “You are safe. You are exhausted. Get some sleep, things will seem better in the morning.”
It wasn’t. He had been forced to go to work with Roy every day for two weeks afterwards and file papers because supposedly it was better for him to have something to do. Al didn’t agree. He was cold and tired still, as if the gate had left a lasting chill inside of him. He had shut down again, trying to be a bit more cheerful, trying to pretend that he wasn’t devastated.
There was no way to get to his brother, and even dying would not be enough.
He had been traumatized and silent the first few days, but as the fear, the intensity of the memories had faded, Al’s natural curiosity had taken over. Maybe if he was clever, he could find a way. Perhaps. He filed another paper away moodily as he tapped his foot against the floor.
There had to be an answer. The sensible part of him told him this was not possible. The part that was an Elric refused to give up, no matter the odds, and this lead to a rather odd frame of mind.
He had supper with Roy as he usually did, and then later made polite small talk in front of the fireplace over a drink. Roy told him all about the boring details of being a General, while Al had eventually drifted off on the couch again. He had been tired lately.
The next thing he knew, Roy was shaking him awake, telling him to go to bed. Al took him halfway up on the recommendation, at least retreating to his place in the guest room. He changed into his pajamas and lit a few candles and opened a book he had stolen from Roy’s library. Perhaps there was something here, some sort of information.
When he finally gave up at two in the morning and crawled into the bed and cried himself to sleep, he could never have imagined the strange turn of events that would lead him to the very answer that he sought.
Dawn was still a few hours away when he awoke again.
He sat up from bed, something felt…wrong in the air around him. He put his feet on the floor and shook his head wearily. He had been sleeping fairly well, but something had jolted him. The hair at the nape of the neck was standing smartly at attention.
The snow was falling silently outside the window, the only sound the far off barking of a dog and the much nearer sigh of a settling house. Something…
The room was suddenly strangely cold.
It had been cool before, the fire having died, but now…he could see his breath. The inside of the windowpanes began to frost from the inside. Al gasped, white staining the air as he looked around frantically.
A woman stood in front of him when he glanced back, her hands were on her hips, a flash of recollection? A faded image from his memory brought to life…her white dress and dark and unruly hair piled on the top of her head, lips quirked into a knowing and serene smirk.
He watched, frozen in fear as she reached out, her fingertip brushing the fabric of his shirt just over his heart and under his collar bone…the tattoo of her Flamel…he had indelibly inked it onto his skin in remembrance. Now it flared to life, burning almost hotly, shining through his pajama top and, pulsing with every beat of his heart.
He blinked, his hand coming up to cover where she touched as he gasped, jerking back belatedly. And then she was gone.
“Master?!” He gasped, staggering barefoot towards the door of his room as the temperature returned to normal. She wasn’t here anymore. She was gone, and…maybe she was outside in the hall? Maybe…
He threw the door open, stumbling out into the long dark hallway with it’s mahogany paneling and polished pillars.
“Where are you?” He called lowly, harshly. All there was, was the echo of his voice coming back to him.
There was a sound to his right. As he turned, the pain over his tattoo increased, the heat in his skin.
Was he supposed to follow this feeling?
Was he dreaming? Well, nothing would be accomplished by standing here. He was awake now, and as terrified as he was curious. There was no such thing as a ghost. Izumi was dead, but weren’t ghosts supposed to ‘haunt’ where they died? Well…for now he would pass in this one instance where his brother might have failed. He followed his heart, his instincts.
He made himself take a right…following the odd sensation down the hallway, around the corner to a set of stairs that Roy had not shown him. The passage had dead ended there…there had been a wall there before during the tour, that was for certain, but now there was a door…
He followed the stairs straight up. They were narrow, ancient, as if a smaller house had been here before and then things had been added on to it until it was as it existed today. He followed the curve upwards, past moats of dust that were only disturbed by his bare feet.
It was stale, dark…and there was something, the edge of an array, against his bare feet. He nudged the painted line with his toe, and felt what it wanted. He knelt, dust clinging to the knees of his sleep pants and touched his palms to the edge of the circle.
The room lit up. Al stared in awe at row upon row of musty and perfectly preserved, if slightly yellowed, books.
He stood as if in a trance. It was a study. An alchemist’s study. Glass beakers, scales, bottles of chemicals so old that stoppers had been eaten away or labels had faded.
It was…cold here…
The pain in his chest made him wrap his arms around himself, the temperature of the room dropped again, the wind howled outside the window, and seemed to rip through the room, an almost physical presence. It twisted the moats of dust on the floor into a furious dance just before a book dropped from the shelf to fall to the floor with a heavy splat, pages fanning furiously in the breeze.
Al followed it, kneeling as the room seemed to warm a dozen degrees.
There was an array very similar to the one he had been working on at Auntie’s house drawn in the margins. Al clasped the book tightly, pulling it closer to his nose. The spirit half was drawn in two...the center two perfect spirals. One black, the other white. A dot of black in the white, and white in the black. Balance…of course. Equivalent trade…even in this…but what could he trade? And what did the funny markings just within the circle mean?
He peered at the spine of the book then. There were a few numbers there, and a symbol that annotated the concept of “time” among alchemists. What the hell?
And then he became cold again, and unbearably sleepy.
“Five more minutes…”
“Alphonse, you’re freezing.”
Someone draped him in something warm and heavy, he pulled it up around his neck.
“Alphonse wake up! How did you get here?!”
“General?!” Al asked as that voice finally filtered into his brain.
He sat up groggily, yawning, and recognized the place he was sleeping, the jacket covering him, pinned with medals.
He was stunned for a moment.
“I…dreamed about this place.” He whispered fearfully just before he looked down. The book was still open. To the page. With the drawing.
He snatched it up quickly off the floor, staring at it again.
He pinched himself then, and hard. He grunted. Awake. He was really awake.
He glanced around.
The array had deactivated and it was quiet now. The room was the same, except for his bare footprints, and now a set of boot prints that had to belong to the General.
“I didn’t even know this place was here…” Roy said, looking around curiously, his good eye wide with childlike wonder.
“I don’t know, I had a really strange dream. Was I sleep walking?”
“Can you perform transmutations in your sleep?” Roy asked, awed.
“Alphonse, the only way you could have gotten here is you sleepwalked to the end of the hall, transmuted a door, and came up here. In the dark. None of the hall lamps were lit.”
Al stared at the book in his hands.
“She lead me here.” Al whispered.
“She?” Roy asked.
He was in full uniform but looking slightly disheveled.
“It uh…it doesn’t matter. I found the answer to my question about the array…here…in the margins…see?” Al asked, offering the book up.
Roy took it, staring at it cautiously.
“This…makes some sense…but look at this dust Alphonse, you didn’t look at any other books…what made you choose this one?” Roy asked just before snapping it shut over his finger to save the place. On the yellowed cover, emblazoned in what looked like old blood, was the Flamel. The same one that Ed had inked onto the back of his crimson coat.
“Alphonse…this is…for lack of a better word…creepy. What are the chances that you would sleepwalk, know to transmute a door here, know how to activate the light array here in the dark, and then just happen to pick the right book, you cannot tell the Flamel is here by the spine…was it open on the floor?”
“General…let’s just say…that I now believe in ghosts. Or something of that ilk…”
Al pushed himself to standing, up off of the floor. He was trembling in cold and fear, so he left Roy’s jacket draped over his shoulders.
“Were you looking for me?” Al asked then, realizing that Roy looked a bit warm, as if he had been dashing madly around a large enclosed space. Like maybe a mansion.
“Yes, actually. I was concerned…but…Alphonse, do you know how much these books are worth?”
“Who used to live here? An alchemist at some time?” Al asked, blinking wearily, feeling stiff from the way he had fallen asleep on the hardwood floor.
“The Time Alchemist.” Roy said gently. “He disappeared, leaving this mansion without an owner, so of course the State claimed it…now…ghosts you say?” Roy asked curiously.
“I refuse to talk about it in here.” Al said, shivering again and nervously pulling Roy’s jacket tighter.
“You were off edge enough to fall asleep here…”
“Well…” Al began. “About that…”
“I really find that hard to believe.” Roy stated as he sipped at his cup of coffee.
“You said it yourself. What are the chances of a coincidence like this?” Al wheedled, slapping his hands on the table for emphasis.
“I am a man of science.” Roy said drolly.
“As a man of science you should be able to understand the statistics of probability. That there are things that we just don’t understand in the realm of the supernatural.
Look at the gate? Can you explain it? I can’t, thought I /think/ I understand how it works. You’ve seen it yourself, so you can’t deny it’s there. You and I and the rest of the Alchemists throughout the world can’t be having the same damn hallucination…and the same goes for ‘ghosts’.
Lots of people see ghosts, we try and explain it as insanity, wishful thinking, or a stage of sleep, but what do we really know? All the knowledge in the world is just a drop in the bucket. There are more stars than we can count with the naked eye, but does that mean they don’t exist!” Al was all but worked into a self-righteous froth.
Roy blinked at him. “Settle down Alphonse, What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that you’re scared of what you don’t understand and you’d rather think I’m crazy. Roy Mustang. Alchemists /can/ bring people back from the dead. I don’t know how much more supernatural you can /get./”
Roy blinked again, looked as if he were about to say something, and then paused with his mouth open, processing. After another long moment, he shut it again.
“It is a possibility.” He admitted then, slowly, skeptically.
“Thank you!” Al slapped his good hand against his thigh. “At least you’re admitting it’s possible. Go ahead…think I’m nuts!”
The blond picked the book up from the table, snapping it shut and stormed from the kitchen, trying to remember his way to his room. He actually found that it wasn’t all that difficult this time, and so he picked up a pack of cigarettes and his lighter out of his suitcase, and found his way out of the mansion.
Roy was heading in to work, and Al had run of the library and every place except for Roy’s room to do more research. He had been forbidden from performing any experiments while Roy was gone, and he had sworn that he wouldn’t, and that he would eat and rest today. Roy said he needed to be strong for the Alchemists’ exam. He did need to be, he needed to rest. He needed to study.
He needed a damn cigarette. He pulled his sweater tighter around himself. It was a surprisingly warm day, and sunny. Seldom did those two things occur at the same time in Central’s winter.
He slid a cigarette one out of the pack, lighting it with hands that were unsteady as he made his way into the snowy gardens, finding a gnarled tree stump that was dry and bare in the sun and sat sulkily.
Maybe he was crazy. God knew he felt like it all the time. Did crazy people know they were crazy?
He opened the book to the first page, and found dozens of notes already in the margins, in any white space available at all and took another drag. His hands weren’t shaking quite so much now.
This could prove interesting.
He was almost done with the book and was on his third cigarette when a sound of surprise jerked him from his thoughts.
Roy Mustang was standing in the fading sunset light, breath staining the air silver, and lone eye wide in shock and righteous anger. He watched a dozen different emotions and outrage cross Roy’s face. Yes, it was late. Yes, he had sat out here all day. Yes, he was smoking a cigarette.
He gave Roy a slightly defiant little look before he flicked his cigarette and returned to the paragraph he had been reading.
“General Mustang?” He asked politely, trying not to smile. Maybe he was becoming as defiant as his brother.
“You have been sitting out here in the cold all day reading that book and giving yourself lung cancer?! Since when do you smoke! ((question mark))”
“I forgot, and I don’t, in that order.”
Roy was hunched forward, shivering with his hands in his pockets.
“Then what are you doing right now?”
“Reading.” Al said innocently.
“It’s not even /legal/ for you to smoke at your age.”
“I’m sixteen tomorrow.”
“The legal age here is eighteen.”
“Wow, Central sure is backwards. No one cared in Rizenbul…but then again…no one knew either. Oh well!” Al said, standing stiffly, snapping the book shut. He took one last drag, and then put his cigarette out in the snow.
“You are not just leaving those there on the ground are you?”
“Do you have a better place in mind?”
“No, how about not at all on my property!”
Al narrowed his eyes.
“Brother and I didn’t make you stop womanizing just because you were in the same office as us.”
“I’m old enough to womanize if I want to!” Roy spat.
“If I’m old enough to take my state alchemist exam and die for the state, I am old enough to smoke!” Al shot back.
Roy glowered at him, but had nothing to say about that.
He muttered something about ‘your brother will kill me.’ As he turned on his heel and headed back towards the house. “How about something hot to drink, ((semicolon, it’s)) It’s getting cold Alphonse, and you need to eat something. You promised me you would.” He called, his voice carrying over the wind.
“How do you know I didn’t?”
“I talked to my cook.”
Al frowned. It had been worth a try.
Al was sitting by the fire, relaxing to one of Roy’s phonographs while sipping a mug of tea. Roy had insisted that it must have been the brandy in the hot chocolate that gave Al his “strange dreams”. He was chatting amiably on about how it effected some Alchemists strangely and was reciting some of the wilder and more amusing stories and rumors he had heard while Al nodded politely and sipped his tea.
There was the gentleman’s discussion of day, of weather, and of what Alphonse had learned. Roy them made a mistake by expressing great interest in seeing what Al’s notes were about, and about how he wished to know what Al had planned to get his brother back. If he had known that he was in for an Ishbal sized lecture, Roy might have just chosen to excuse himself and go to bed, or at least, that was how Al mused about it in hindsight.
“It’s simple.” Al said gently. “The concept of what might have happened became clear to me one night when I thought about Dad’s lab. He had things there that no culture in this world ever made, or possessed. They were clearly from somewhere else, and Dad was going away for a long time, but couldn’t be found anywhere here…” Al said lowly. “I don’t remember Dad very much…but Brother talked about it all the time, and after Mom died, and before we did the transmutation, I used to look at the things on the wall and wonder just where, just what, my father had done with his life.
I began to think about the gate then, about the few things I remember about it. One of the effects was briefly being in another world, before Ed came back for me... I know there is something on the other side of the gate, and it isn’t ultimate truth. I think it’s another world.” Al said patiently.
“There are two ways you can cross the gate, nearest I understand. One is when you send just your soul, by borrowing a body on that side of the gate. The only problem is that the gate won’t just open for you. You have to have someone call you back, or to send you. To go physically, I believe there has to be an alchemist on either side of the gate, one to open it on both sides. I don’t think alchemy is as strong on the other side, so that might be why brother is stranded…that and he cannot pass the gate unless…unless…”
“Unless?” Roy encouraged.
“Unless I find a way to stop time.”
Roy blinked. “That’s impossible.”
“No, it isn’t.”
“Just listen.” Al interrupted.
Roy was strangely silent, listening very closely to Al as he requested, a bit of disbelief in his eyes.
“In order for Brother to be able to come back, I have to freeze the gate or he will be torn to shreds. There isn’t enough alchemy in his world to help him pass safely through the gate as there was from this world.”
“But the gate…”
“The gate is just another part of alchemy. It too operates on the laws of nature. I think I know a way to stop time long enough for Ed to come back through the gate. The gate won’t even know he has passed until it is too late.”
“Even if you got that to work, you would still have to make a sacrifice.” Roy said, looking like it was a real effort to be silent.
“I will make that sacrifice, it’s easy.”
“No sacrifice is ever simple!”
“Roy, I will simply be sacrificing a few hours, a few minutes of my life. Not my entire life.”
“How do you know that is all it will take?!” Roy asked unhappily.
“Well, I could age a few years without any real problem.”
“That’s still not acceptable! You have a gift of added years to your life! You should not waste them!”
“My brother is not a waste!” Al said dangerously.
“I didn’t say that…don’t put words in my mouth…I think you still have a lot of studying ahead of you. There has to be some other way.” Roy said lowly. “Besides, how can you be certain that your brother is not dead? I believe you mind you, but still…”
Al nodded thoughtfully.
“I gave it careful thought. Brother’s body was not with us. If he had died, the gate would have taken his soul and left at least part of his physical form…but it didn’t, which meant that the gate took him, and it didn’t kill him.”
“How can you prove that.”
“How can you be certain that your brother is there?”
“Even if you could open the gate, how do you know he will be the one to come through.”
“You realize how this makes you sound.”
Roy was just sitting there now, staring into the fireplace, eyebrow looking like it had become a permanent part of his hairline.
“A lot to take…I know.” Al said softly.
“I think I owe both you and your brother an apology too, while we are at it.”
“Why is that?” Al asked gently.
“I have underestimated what you and he could do. Could survive the pain of. Why won’t you let me help you?! Why would you two never let me help you?! I would have!” Roy hissed, his voice a barely muffled shout that seemed to Al to be pent up pain and surprise.
Al knew Roy deeply enough to know why as well. Roy Mustang liked to think he knew everything. When something this out of left field snuck up and socked him upside the head, it tended to unhinge him.
Al stood slowly, and then went to perch beside Roy, eyes expressive, soft, searching, as they met Roy’s one dark gray.
“Roy. You are a good man, you did no wrong. You tried your best to help us, always. And you worried about us. You lay awake at night and you were vexed about Brother. About me.”
Roy’s grip on the arm of the couch was strained.
“Roy…please? Don’t…don’t punish yourself. I will get Brother back, and we can both punch him in the eye.”
He gave Roy a thousand watt smile and a gentle hand on the shoulder.
“No one’s pain is bigger, more important, than your own. No matter how insignificant you think it may be. It’s not Roy…you miss him too…don’t you?”
Al did not wait for Roy to touch him, instead, he buried himself in Roy’s shoulder, holding tight, and closing his eyes. For a moment, he thought Roy would push him away, but the older alchemist did not. Instead he tangled fingers gently in Al’s hair, and rested his cheek on top of Al’s head.
“The Elric spirit when crushed under adversity happens to be one of the most amazing things on earth.” Roy whispered a bit thickly. “You do not give up, no matter how others tell you that you are mad, no matter how they lie to you, trick you, deceived you in ‘your own best interest’. Alphonse…be proud of yourself. You should be a much prouder young man than you are now, but I think somehow, that would change you too. So then, do not be proud…do not change any more than you already have.”
“Alphonse, you were always quiet, always in your brother’s shadow. You did not want fame or fortune…you just wanted your brother. That has never changed. But now, you are so much like him…I wonder if it is not an Elric trait…in times of trouble, you grow the strongest. Like he did. I know you miss him…
And I firmly believe that wherever he is, he is living a life of adventure for two, in the hopes that someday soon, he too, crazy or not, will find a way to fly back home to you.”
Al smiled against Roy’s shoulder, feeling both of their pain lift just a little.
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Cross posted to: yaoicest fma_yaoi jadedsilk elricest