* * * * * * *
Of all the things that Ed thought were possible, he would never have imagined this.
He thought he had seen everything. He had seen the Gate. He had seen homunculi, one of which was a mutilated version of his dead mother. He had seen a world different than his original one and currently lived in it. He had seen alchemy enacted in this world when it wasn't supposed to be possible (granted, there was Envy to help with that).
But he certainly never expected to see this world's version of himself again after all those years, staring back at him with an equally shocked expression. Because that was just plainly impossible.
Considering that, you know, he got the boy killed back then in London.
Surprisingly, the boy-- no, man (he was clearly older than him, even without the... cane in his hand) was the first one to break the eye-contact and moved toward him. Even with his shellshocked brain, Ed managed to register that the man's gait was slow and he seemed to exercise a great deal of effort with his every step. He used the cane to support his left leg, and as he drew closer, Ed couldn't help but wince when he saw the huge scar that covered the left side of his alter's face. It was like an eternity as Ed froze on his spot, his legs refusing to move as the man wobbled toward him.
"Edward Elric." Ed could only gape as the man called his name. "I've been looking... forward to meeting you."
"You..." Ed found that he was at a total lost of what to say, so he just blurted the first thing that crossed his mind. "You're alive!"
Nice, Ed. Real smooth.
The man was less than amused too, apparently. "Yes, I suppose I'm lucky enough to be alive after having a zeppelin land on me."
And now Ed felt like digging a hole and hiding in it. No, really, forget the uranium bomb and world peace. Just leave him alone to die in shame.
"I... uh... you...." The man raised his right eyebrow (don't look to the left, don't look to the left), as if he was expecting something, and Ed struggled to arrange his muddled thoughts. "But how?" he finally settled with, throwing the question out weakly.
The man snorted. "I was a touch-and-go case for a while, apparently. I actually woke up a whole year after the accident like, well, this." He gestured at his body.
"I'm sorry!" Ed blurted, before he realized it. "I'm sorry, I really am sorry!"
The eyebrow moved again. "For what? Stealing my body or leaving it half-dead?"
Ouch. Ouch, ouch, ouch.
"Give me your hand," the man said, suddenly.
"Give me your hand," his alter said impatiently. "We're moving somewhere I can sit. Unless you expect me to stand up as we talk at length?"
So Ed did. He went to the man's right side and as he tried to figure out where he should touch the man, his alter just grabbed at his arm, clinging with a surprisingly strong grip and started to move forward.
They moved through the Oxford Street slowly. Ed soon adjusted his walking rhythm to the man's and found himself contemplating his alter thoughtfully. He was taller by a few inches, but his hunched back (it didn't seem to be able to straighten up, Ed noted with even more guilt) made his height not much different than Ed's. His bangs were a lot longer than the last time Ed saw him despite the short crop at the back of his head, but Ed suspected that it was on purpose (no, don't try to look over his nose). His face was longer and had stronger jaws, and well-shaved. His brown jacket and suit showed that he had not been living too poorly, but it wasn't an easy life, either.
"That place," the man said, pointing with his cane and roughly pulling Ed back from his thoughts. Ed followed the direction of the cane and found a small cozy looking restaurant across the street. "Get us there," his alter ordered.
His ego started to scream at the authority in the voice, but his guilt quickly stepped in and killed the protest.
Soon Ed found himself sitting across the man staring at a cup of tea, trying to start a conversation. He had many questions, but he didn't know which one he should ask first. He kept struggling as the man before him calmly enjoyed his tea, before he suddenly realized something. "How did you know my name?"
"Hohenheim told me," the man said, putting his cup back on the saucer. "He told me after I woke up. I was pestering him with questions since, well, it was a bizarre experience for me and I just had to know."
Hohenheim? That bastard! He never told Ed that his alter had survived! ...But Ed had never asked, too. He had just assumed that double was dead.... "What did he tell you?"
"Aside that you're his son and you both came from other world?" He crooked his eyebrow again. "Alchemy, the Gate, pretty much bits of background of the things you two talked about that time. After all, even with you holding a complete control of my body, I was still there, you know."
Ed shifted in his seat uncomfortably.
The two fell into silence again. Ed tried not to stare, but he couldn't help himself. The man before him was himself, but not. It was like staring at a broken mirror, where everything was wrong but you know that it was your shadow that the mirror was reflecting back. The scar disfiguring half of his face, the left eye that was closed (he doubted that it was functional), and now Ed noticed the lack of a left ear and--
"Could you stop staring at me? Bloody rude little bugger, aren't you?"
Ed quickly ducked his head in embarrassment. "So- sorry!"
There was another uncomfortable silence before the man finally said anything. "So," he started. "I see that you got to get dumped in this world again. Physically, too."
Ed winced at the man's stress on the word, but he nodded anyway. "Yes. This is my fourth year."
"Four years!" The eyebrow shot upward. "And here I thought it has been... what, eight or nine years? after the accident. I guess the Gate does have a weird sense of time."
Ed shifted again.
"So what have you been doing?" the man asked nonchalantly.
"I was... in Germany for a while," Ed told him vaguely. "Doing stuff."
"Ah," the man nodded. "Trying to get home? Didn't exactly work, I can see."
Ed shrugged noncommitally. "Not exactly. I did get back to my world once, but shit happened and I got here again. So I figured that I should live here instead of trying to go home again."
The man hummed. Ed felt queasy as his alter's eye seemed to be inspecting him, scrutanising him closely. "And you never thought of looking for me, I see," he finally said.
"Well, I didn't know you're alive! I mean, I was there too. It seemed to be obvious enough that we were going to die!"
"Correction, I, not we."
His ego did a serious coup over his guilt and Ed couldn't stop his mouth from growling out. "Could you quit it, already? Yes, I nearly killed you! You don't have to pull at it every single minute!"
The man glared.
Ed's mouth snapped shut.
"Yes, you did nearly kill me, didn't you." The man started to look hundred times worse in Ed's eyes. "Not only that I managed to survive by pure luck, I also lost my eye, my face, half of my hearing, and most of my mobility. Oh yes! Not only that, but I was also stuck in coma for one whole year, spent the next three years in rehabilitation, and there went my teenage years. Oh yes! And I could hardly find work too, you know, seeing that nobody needs a useless cripple who didn't even finish school, nevermind that I do have an intact brain, so I had to live of my family's money, the social service, and my friends' pity."
Ed could only gape at the man in a horror akin to his first encounter to Barry the Chopper.
It was one thing to feel guilty when people kept trying to tell him that he was not. It still hurt, but at least he had people trying to placate him, telling him that it's okay, and despite his insistence, he couldn't help but feel like everything would be all right one day.
And the people of Liore couldn't accuse him for the destruction of Liore in person because they were dead. He knew intellectually that they didn't die by his hands directly (the military, Archer, conspiracy, homunculi, Dante), and he could feel a guilty relief to know that.
But to have a person, live in flesh, accusing him, and he was right, and it fucking hurt because he was right, and there was no way to run, and there was no salvation.
Because he was right.
Ed's eyes focused again and he saw the man looming before him. He vaguely noticed the shattered cup in his hand and the wet table cloth, but he didn't care.
He had never felt so small.
"I'm sorry," he could only say. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry."
The patrons of the restaurant surrounding them must have turned to see a rare treat of a twenty-year-old man breaking down in tears, but Ed didn't have any room in his psyche to care at this point. And the sobs only grew louder as the man before him reached out to hold his head and Ed let him guide his face to the worn material on his hunched chest.
Later, as they parted their ways in front of the Tube station, the man said, "I can't honestly say that I can forgive you."
Ed nodded tiredly. "I know," he said, his voice still cracking from the previous embarassing moments. "I don't expect you to."
The man looked at him thoughtfully, before he finally opened his mouth again. "I always thought that if I ever got to meet you in person, I would have ended up wringing your neck or doing something equal to that."
"It certainly felt like you did," Ed admitted with a grimace.
To Ed's astonishment, the man suddenly smiled. It was a tired smile, and the first one ever since they met, but a smile nevertheless.
But Ed said nothing about that. Instead, he said to him, "You haven't told me your name."
The man shook his head. "And apparently I have lost my manners along with the zeppelin," he said ruefully. "It's Edward. Edward Gamlin."
"Edward Gamlin," Ed echoed, memorizing the name, burning it to his brain so that he would never forget it.
"We probably won't meet again," the man said.
"No, we won't." There was a sadness in the man's eye. "I'd rather not, either. You remind me too much of what I could have been."
Ed winced, but he said nothing.
There was a silence again, but it was not as uncomfortable as it was before. And finally, Edward Gamlin said, "Goodbye, Edward Elric."
Ed tried to smile (though he could feel himself failing already) and bid him too. "Bye."
The man turned and wobbled toward the station gate. Ed watched solemnly as he dragged his crippled body until he finally disappeared among the crowd. He kept standing there even for a while, as if waiting for any sign of the man to come back wobbling to him, perhaps to kick his ass or something.
Nothing of sort, though.
So he turned away and headed back home, where Al would be waiting for him.
* * * * * * *