[Author] Mara D
[Series] Fullmetal Alchemist
[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 should not be that obvious.
[Chatter]Yeha! And so it begins. Freaking /finally/.
Al stood, heaving for air just slightly as he studied the pillar of twisted black glass in front of him.
He had been chosen for the newer part of the practical section of the state alchemist exam. Combat. What good was an alchemist that could not defend himself against another alchemist? It was a new part of the State’s law, and it was mainly in place for those who wished to become soldiers. However, even scholars should know about self defense. Al had ignored the physical part of the exam as much as possible, mainly because he had chosen to become a civilian consultant and military investigator. He would, of course, be leaving behind the rank of Major, but that was okay. He still couldn’t avoid taking this part of the exam.
He had a feeling he had just won himself another mark of “flying colors” considering he was going up against the only other candidate of real power out of the lot of test takers, and the young woman was groveling on the ground, her throat at the point of the spear he had transmuted from a little of his own blood and some nearby trees.
He had destroyed her pillar of earth, clapping his bare hands together and calling down a bolt of lightning that had melted the sand into a hulking heap of glass.
It was over. He was just waiting for the Fuhrer to call it.
“Enough!” The man shouted from the edge of the arena.
Al let her up, and then offered her his hand.
“Good match.” He said softly.
“Go to hell!” She hissed as she swatted his hand away.
He sighed softly, and then left her to get up on her own.
Roy had awarded Al his own watch in front of the crowd of onlookers and under the beneficent eye of the new Fuhrer.
Al’s knees and hands were shaking as he took the piece of cool metal, as Roy awarded him his title of “Lightning Alchemist.” to a smattering of applause.
Highest marks on written, physical and practical tests. His practical demonstration in all the elements had gone perfectly. He had passed his medical exam, fit as a horse, and he had aced his combat section as well.
It was unanimous. And Al was a wreck from the stress. He had kept one hand in his pocket through the whole ceremony so he could clench his fist. He couldn’t shake the ache in his chest. The ache that said that Ed should be here for this, that he wanted Ed to be cheering him on more than anything else.
That of course, was impossible all things considered. Even if Ed /had/ been here, he wouldn’t have been happy with Al for doing this. At least, he didn’t think he would be.
He slept for almost two days after the exams, mainly because he felt so sad and aching inside.
Roy had eased him out of bed on the second day, prodding him past the slump that the older alchemist assured him was completely common after the sort of stress that Al had been under. Roy had also left it unspoken that Al was still pining for his brother.
Roy had told him to go to the libraries, with his watch he was now allowed. That had seemed like a good idea to Al. There were better things to do other than lie in bed and mourn. Especially when there was a chance that he could find the information he was looking for now.
For the next two or so months, that was exactly what Al did.
He had hand written four journals, filling them dedicatedly with any tiny scrap of information he could find in the libraries. Schiezka had been an amazing help in his searches, and from time to time Black Hayate had come to snore in doggy content at Al’s feet while the blond alchemist read a book or studied a report. Fuery, Havoc and Breda would drop in from time to time, kidnapping him to go eat lunch with them, or attend a play. Sometimes they would just sit in Havoc’s car and smoke, listening to a radio drama. Al honestly looked forward to those times as much as he balked against them. Time lost or no, the support of friends was incredibly important to him, more so than they probably ever even knew.
Sometimes, Maria Ross and Denny would come along to the libraries and sneak in a thermos of tea and some cookies. They would steal into one of the research rooms, and Maria would just chat with Al about everything that was permissible and some things that weren’t. Denny would just sit there comfortably at Maria’s side and shoot her longing glances.
Al was determined that as his one act of meddling goodness for the year, he would do his best to get the two of them together. He didn’t know how yet, but he was certainly actively wracking his brains. It was better than thinking about his upcoming sixteenth birthday, and all the pain that that would entail. Ed would always do something for Al, and for some reason, it hurt worse for Al then than during any other holiday or family occurrence.
The eve of his sixteenth birthday found him studying late at the library, and then rushing home before Roy retired for the evening. Roy had a strange tendency to panic if Al wasn’t home before midnight. It was like some sort of unofficial curfew punishable by stress.
He ate supper in dull silence with Roy, for once acting as lackluster as he felt. This drew a few worried frowns from Roy. Al had tried so hard lately to be upbeat and chipper, even if it was a façade. But right now, he was just too tired for masks.
He washed his dishes and then bid Roy a forlorn goodnight.
He awoke at midnight, probably simply because he was hoping to sleep through this ‘milestone’.
By law, he was now sixteen…by law, he was completely, undeniably an adult. He was also sixteen, and no one would share that with him. He was sixteen, and his brother was a world away, and those he loved most no longer wanted him around. Or at least, that was they way it had felt. He had heard nothing from them about this…maybe in the morning? It wasn’t like the Rockbells to forget…
He sat cross legged at the foot of the guest room bed, feeling transient, hollow. The night clothes he was wearing were washed in Roy’s house, by Roy’s maid. They didn’t smell like Rizenbul, like pinesap and grass and fresh earth and summer wind. Everything he had felt borrowed, and this place was foreign.
The room felt musty, heavy…and if he closed his eyes, he could almost hear his brother’s breathing.
That was who should be sleeping next to him now, talking to him.
/ “Hey! Al! Happy birthday…!”
“But you’re nine! Mom would be so proud. She’s not here to wake you up, to make you a midnight birthday cake, so I did! I’m not very good at cooking…but it tastes good! Come on!”
Al had blinked wide awake at the mention of cake, at the look of delight on his brother’s face. “You had some already brother?!”
“I had to make sure it was good enough. It is! Let’s go!”/
Al wrapped his arms around his shoulders, hugging himself close, trying to pretend it was Ed and his rare hugs. Al always got a hug on his birthday at least. That was the best present ever, not that he ever told Ed. He was afraid if he told his older brother…he would stop. So he never had.
Now he wondered if he would ever get a chance to.
He stood resolutely, padding barefoot across the thick carpet to his suitcase.
Instead of pulling out a cigarette, like he wanted to, he pulled out his brother’s old coat. He slipped the fabric on over his pajamas. It was a bit tight around his shoulders, but he didn’t mind. It was like a hug from his brother.
It was the best he was going to get, and it was warm.
He let himself out into the hallway, feeling restless, and began to pace. Up and down the guest hall, ending just before the stairs that lead to the secret library. No. He didn’t want to go there. Not yet.
He didn’t know where he was going, but he was definitely going somewhere.
He found himself in the living room, the fire was merely embers, and the moon was bright on the snow through the picture window.
He could feel his heart pounding, the fabric of the coat creaking against his chest as he breathed.
He noticed something he hadn’t before, perhaps simply because the room was overwhelmingly beautiful, the vaulted ceiling elegant, the curtains swaying in the slight draft. Or perhaps it was because it seemed so much like it belonged that that was why he had overlooked it.
A grand piano, ivory keys slightly dusty.
He wondered if it was in tune…if anyone had played it in gods knew how long…
He scooted onto the bench, thinking about nothing but this. The piano.
/ That’s the wrong key Al…it’s like a math equation…see…this means a number…you hold the note that long…/
Al had blinked, trying to mimic his brother’s fingers. They had had an old upright piano, it was hardly ever tuned, but somehow, because it was at least in tune to itself, it never seemed to be horribly off when played. Their mother had played a lot, in the evenings, when she seemed tired…when she seemed to miss their father the worst. So Ed had learned to play for her, when she would lie on the sofa quietly, unable to stand from exhaustion, or so they had thought at the time.
Ed’s music probably eased her through the pain of the cancer that had been eating at her body. The two boys had not known then, all they had known was that she loved music, and so to see her smile, Ed learned how to play. Because Ed learned to play, so did Al.
There was one thing about the way Ed played. He was technically flawless, but he had never learned to connect the music with emotion. It was like a math problem, to be analyzed and solved as quickly and accurately as possible. While for Alphonse, he had never understood music as letters and numbers…no…he knew music for what it was. Spirit. It was Alphonse who was the most gifted player. The one that others had listened to for hours as he improvised, wrote his own music, as he performed for their mother when Ed wasn’t doing so. For Ed, she would listen and smile.
But for Al, she would cry.
That was why he didn’t play very often, and when he had, he had hated it as much as it had been an outlet for the emotions he didn’t express as readily as his brother.
He hated it, loved it, longed for it even now. How you could love and hate something at the same time seemed completely impossible to Al, and yet, he knew it wasn’t. The whole time he had listened to the General’s records, he had memorized, figured out what they were playing, how to play it, and how he would like to play it better.
Now, despite the fact that the house slumbered…now was the time for this. He wanted this.
He closed his eyes, and let his fingers find the keys, caress away the dust. Yes, that was how he felt. Dusty, unused like the very piano he sat at. It was a beautiful thing, ebony and white and very expensive. And for something that such a gift, so very unloved.
As his fingertips pulled the first few quiet chords from the thing, he felt tears threatening, prickling at the back of his eyes. The sound was beautiful, the pitch and tune perfect even after all this time having not been played.
He promised himself he would play quietly, so as not to awaken Roy, but within a matter of moments he had forgotten, swept up in the night, in the moonlight, in the scent of Ed’s coat, almost as comforting as his presence would have been at his side. Al played, and he played for Ed, he soared with the notes, soared to the heavens, and crashed back to the earth moment by moment. The room he was in was designed for this! The acoustics were incredible, and the piano sung under his hands, or cried piteously right along with him.
This was all that was left.
And he would cling to it. This was all that was left of Alphonse.
He would play because Edward would never play again. No matter how good the automail, it could never be that good.
He played until the morning sun began to peek over the horizon, spreading color across the crimson carpet by blue-gray degrees.
He was halfway through a song when he heard someone yawn aloud.
His head snapped up to find Roy Mustang lounging on the couch in his pajamas.
Al stood up so fast that he almost knocked over the bench.
“General! How long have you been there!”
Roy gave Al a red eyed smile.
“I…I didn’t hear you…I must have kept you up…”
“No Alphonse, you didn’t. I did not want to disturb you, I wanted to hear you play without distraction.”
Al swallowed hard.
“I’m sorry.” Al whispered, embarrassed and ashamed now. “Did I…make you cry?”
“Yes.” Roy answered honestly.
“That’s why I hate to play…” Al whispered, standing there trembling in Ed’s coat.
“Do you know why people cry Alphonse?”
“Because…I make them hurt…”
“No. That isn’t it at all.”
“Then what is it?”
“It’s because they understand, you speak the language of emotion so flawlessly, that they know that it is okay to feel, for just this one moment in time. For this one moment in time, when you play, who could hold the joy and pain and love against them?”
Al stared at Roy quietly.
“Happy birthday, Alphonse.” Roy whispered. “I have something for you.”
Al blinked as he pushed the bench back in, wiped his hand where sweat had indelibly stuck the dust to his fingers in a tawny brown.
Al sat on the coffee table next to Roy, who smiled, and held his closed fist out to Al.
“I hate to give this up,” Roy said softly. “But if anyone should have it…it should be you.”
“What is it?” Al asked reflexively as he held both hands out, palms up, a bit of innocent curiosity in his tone that made Roy bite his lip.
Al recognized that face. He had done something so like his brother that it had made Roy hurt.
Roy took a shaky breath and then unclenched his hand.
There was the sound of silver clinking on silver, and the weight made Al’s forearms flex just slightly.
Al stared at the body warmed watch in his hands, and recognized it right away.
The chain was different than the one that came standard with the watch, that was because Ed kept breaking it, catching it on things, and he had transmuted it back together so many times that it was almost funny looking, the chain transforming into several different designs down its length.
There was a ding on the corner…a chimera had taken a nibble and no matter how many times Ed had fixed it, it had always looked a tiny bit funny.
Al clutched the thing then to his chest, feeling it ticking there, patiently awaiting its owner to return and claim it.
“I can’t keep this.” Al whispered in awe.
“Of course you can; it does me no good to hold on to it…beside, I have no right…”
“No. You don’t understand.” Al said, smiling just slightly. “I will only be holding on to it for him. He will want it back.”
Roy and Al shared an easy smile then, as the sun slowly rose higher, and Al yawned once to try and cover the dampness at the corner of his eyes. He was still holding the watch to his chest.
He received a letter for his birthday from Auntie and Winry, as well as a package. It arrived the evening after Gracia had thrown him a party, and everyone had been invited. He had received mainly gifts of money, people claiming that Al was difficult to buy for. Auntie, on the other hand, had not had the difficulty. She had somehow known through old woman psychic powers exactly what size Alphonse was. She had sent him several new outfits, all of them frighteningly tasteful, and definitely something Al would wear. The correspondence had been pleasant, revealing also that Roy had been writing Auntie and Winry letters to update them on how he was doing.
He would have strangled the man outright for treating him like a science experiment if he hadn’t been kind enough to compliment Alphonse’s piano playing and given him Ed’s watch to hold on to.
The next few weeks passed like a fever for Alphonse.
Before he had been desperate to save his brother, but now it was a fire. He was sharp every moment, never flagging, never wavering, Edward’s watch in his pocket a constant reminder.
He barricaded himself into both of Roy’s libraries alternatingly, and the cook had taken to bringing him sandwiches or cookies during the day. Sometimes sliced apples, wedges of cheese, anything to keep some nutrients in Al because he seldom slept, and even more seldom had time to remember to do petty things like eat, or even smoke. He was driven and this time it was not by despair and pain. It was hope. All of his research had pointed to this, to now, to research into time itself. The answers were just about within his reach, and the private library of the “Time Alchemist” had been helping him immensely.
He couldn’t stop now, not when the end was in sight.
He studied while Roy grumbled about him being obsessive. He studied while the grass grew green again and the snow melted. He studied until the days were hot. He studied and studied until the summer rains began to fall. Until one stormy night in early July, when Al decided that the only way to find out if his theory was correct was to test it.
He didn’t know how he would do this. He didn’t know how to get around this, if he should ask anyone for help. Even for safety. He didn’t know what would happen if his alchemy rebounded. But one way or another, it would be tonight that he tried again. He was terrified at the possibility of facing the gate. He was completely and utterly scared stiff. But he would find the answer to this tonight or die trying.
Once again, he waited for Roy to leave for work before he set to preparing for the transmutation.
The storm was heavy in the air, the rain pelting the roof above as the sun began to rise fitfully above the horizon, barely brightening the world to twilight under the fury of the thunderstorm.
The rain and smell of the gardens made the air throughout the mansion fresh, even in the attic. The smell of hot summer, it reminded Al of the time of first frantic summoning of lightning.
Now was the right time. He just knew it. For once, he had a good feeling about this.
He grunted as he moved a bookcase to make more space.
He shoveled a stack of papers and a dozen or so books out of the way and onto the desk in the corner. Save for the one on time manipulation, written by none other than the great “Time Alchemist” himself.
For the last few days, Al had busily been chipping the old light array off the floor, and for the first time in ages, the hardwood was bare. Things were ready now.
Al used a plumb line from the Time Alchemist’s personal collection as he grasped a piece of chalk in his hands. With a surprisingly steady hand, he began to draw the array.
It was four hours before Roy Mustang was due home from work. Alphonse rolled up his sleeves, and went to rummage for a fine silver scalpel that was hovering in the mess of paperwork on the desk.
Alphonse read the paper over one more time before setting it aside, and staring from the knife to the circle. He couldn’t afford a single mistake. He had practiced drawing the rest of the array over and over, even with his eyes closed, until he could probably have done it in his sleep.
That was in case he lost too much blood and became confused. He knew even half dead he could draw the stupid thing.
He held the blade to his wrist, and pulled down quickly, shivering at the cool and surprisingly painless motion. He captured the blood in a beaker as it trickled, and then picked up a brush where he had rested it next to the paper.
As he was finishing up the last few lines, the coppery tang of blood in the air making him woozy, the idea struck him. The way to make sure he called Edward, would be to concentrate on something that Edward had owned, had felt strongly about.
Al dropped the watch in the center of the array, and then backed out.
He smeared two symbols for lightning onto each of his palms, listening to the storm build as if in commiseration with his nerves. Lightning would be his catalyst, and most readily recognizable to his brother no matter what.
It was now or never.
He grit his teeth, and allow the pain and loneliness and desperation to take over. He called to his brother, concentrating on everything that he could remember about his brother, and then he clapped his hands together with a growl.
Lightning struck, and it rent its way through the roof directly to Alphonse’s outstretched arms. Al screamed in pain, but this time? This time he had a place for the energy to go. He shoved it into the array, and he kept channeling it. Lightning struck over and over again, the very electricity in the air being pulled towards Alphonse as he fed it into the circle.
He had to hold this until his brother could respond…he had to hold it…that was all…
He traced the outside of the array where he had drawn the design in his blood with a fingertip shimmering with power, closed his eyes as the lightning froze mid bolt, as time stopped. The world froze, and the only thing that moved was the blue light swirling inside the array.
This pain, this stillness was nothing, his struggle for air was nothing. All of this was nothing if he could just hold on…if he could just get Ed…
He held out for as long as he could…until he was trembling and sobbing in pain, whimpering with the effort. He held on until surprisingly hot air washed over him, as something very large tore through the array and erupted in a ball of flame into then room with him. There was a sudden pain in his head, and everything was moving again. Until he heard booted feet scrambling up the stairwell, until he heard sirens, and then everything went dark.
When Al woke again, there was dust in his eyes, in his mouth…He rolled over, and then promptly threw up.
Someone was holding his hair back, holding him up. He recognized Roy Mustang’s cologne, but the smell of smoke and fire…gasoline and ozone was heavy in the air. The array…something had come through the array…There was a hole in the ceiling, and rain was falling, soaking through his clothing.
There was a familiar voice then…scratch that…two familiar voices.
Neither of them were Roy’s.
“Need I remind you it was /your/ idea to steal the plane.”
“I didn’t say I knew how to fly it, I thought you did old man!”
“I certain as stars did not!”
“I can see that! You know, we’re lucky to be alive.”
“Were lucky someone opened up the gate.”
“Where the hell are we?”
Someone clapped sharply and the room chilled, but the smell of burning and gasoline lessened almost immediately.
“LOOK WHAT YOU DID TO MY HOUSE!”
A voice he recognized as Roy Mustang’s cut through the air, angry and worried and almost relieved, all in the same breath.
“Hello Colonel Shit! How’s it going?”
“Hello Roy…it looks like you passed the state alchemist exam all right after all…”
“LOOK WHAT YOU DID TO MY HOUSE!”
Roy must have been really angry; the man seldom repeated himself.
Al cracked his eyes open again, noticing the ice sparkling all over everything in the ruined rubble of the attic. Or at least…that’s what he thought it had been…
A large steel…something…was twisted into the room. It looked like it might have once been bird shaped, and there was a fin on its nose that was still lazily swirling. It looked like only about half of it had fit through the array, and the rest was practically bitten off in the shape of the circle.
“Dad! Brother?!” Al gasped as he tried to push himself upright. Roy pushed him right back down to his hands and knees.
“Lie down Alphonse…you’ve hit your head.”
“Am I dreaming? Roy, tell me I’m not dreaming…please tell me!”
“Alphonse, you aren’t dreaming. You did well. You did very well. Rest your eyes…”
Go Back To:
I've posted a lot today. Sorry to those whom get to see me like fifty billion times >_<;
Cross posted to: yaoicest fma_yaoi fm_alchemist elricest