Title: Another one from "Shattered" -- a series of oneshots on my FF.net account. These chapters are called "Once" and "Reunion."
Rating: ...Er...PG. ~notverygoodatratingthings~
Characters: Roy and Al in the first, Roy and Ed in the second
Spoilers: For the last few episodes...maybe the movie? But nothing groundbreaking.
Warnings: None really. They're not even horribly depressing. :D! Except there is some selfish!Roy in the second one.
Notes: Another two-parter where the second one was written much later than the first and upon request. I don't write a lot of first person, but it seemed fitting to tell it from Roy's POV in this one. Lotso Paternal!Roy!
I only met him once.
Well -- in that form.
And I didn’t recognize him.
I thought that I would; I always believed that I would know him when I saw him. But I am, however, ashamed to say that I did not.
"Do I know you, son?" I think I said. Son? I must be getting up in years to be calling people son.
He had shifted his feet, uncertain, before gazing up at me. Looking back at it, Edward never would have done something like that either. He tended to be brash, open, unafraid. Heh. That was his downfall, wasn’t it? "Well...yes." He had replied, and even then, I still didn’t know.
Because, certainly, he sounded similar to a voice from my past. A voice I had thought long gone – but I don’t think that I wanted to admit it. Admitting that it was that familiar voice would mean that he was still alive – and with him, perhaps his brother.
I had spent the better part of a year trying to cope with their deaths, and I wasn’t exactly sure that I could deal with them being back again. I think it could be compared to the shock of automail – missing a limb for so long and then, in an instant, having it suddenly just be there. It must hurt just as much as having it taken away.
So I simply replied, "Oh?" Even though I knew the answer that would come back in that all too familiar voice.
"My name is Alphonse Elric," And even though I had seen it coming, miles and miles away, the response hit me like a ton of bricks, took my breath away, made me lean against the doorframe of my tiny apartment in shock and stare at him with my only capable eye. "I’m told you knew my brother." Knew? That had to mean...
I think I stuttered a moment before allowing him in, and given his response, I think he was used to the startled reaction. He smiled a little sadly and shuffled his feet. I found myself wondering what exactly put that melancholy flicker in his eye as I lead him to a seat among my piles of alchemic research – the only thing I had to occupy my time, nowadays, really. What with the demotion and all.
I excused myself to brew tea, lingering in the kitchen a bit longer than I needed to, before taking a seat with him among the scattered paper and crumpled notes.
Honestly, I wasn’t terribly eager to see Alphonse, which made me even more ashamed than I already was. But really, I didn’t have any kind of a strong emotional bond to the younger brother. Certainly, I loved the child. It was near impossibly not to. But...but I admired his older brother in an entirely different way. I looked up to Edward, even if I looked down at him in reality. And what I wanted to see when I looked at Alphonse was Ed. I wanted it to be Edward knocking at my door and demanding entry. Edward always gave me strength.
Did that make me selfish? Quite possibly. But all I had to cling to was a picture of Ed that I kept locked away tight in the confines of my mind – a mental portrait of him slapping my hand and looking up at me – determined as ever in the glare of twilight, even though he knew...even though he knew that he was heading away to his death.
And he didn’t even have the decency to tell me that he probably wasn’t ever coming back.
Damn it all if that one mental picture was enough to satisfy me – because it wasn’t. A clawing, grasping void inside of me demanded more than that.
But, I was terribly disappointed. The brother’s were different, it seems, as night and day. I found myself comparing them, to my shame. Counting the differences and mournfully wishing that I couldn’t count the similarities on one hand.
Alphonse smelled faintly of cinnamon and raspberries, I believe. Though I’m not entirely sure (I don’t make a habit of smelling such things) but whatever it was, it was a gentle and welcoming aroma.
He stank of oil – metallic, bitter – and of sweat.
And his face – oh, his face – round and soft and beautiful. Like a child. Like a little boy with baby fat that swooning mothers tended to pinch (I had half a mind to do so myself, to touch the baby softness of Edward’s own creation).
His face was all hard lines and sharp curves. His expression was always friendly, always happy – all smiles. He never wore a mask over his emotions. If he was feeling something, you could tell. His face was so openly expressive and naive – emotions always dancing in his eyes or tugging at his lips.
He looked unfriendly, which was deceiving as anyone could see when they caught him interacting with a child or murmuring to his little brother. His eyebrows were the most expressive part of him besides his eyes, and they were either arched high in disbelief or furrowed low in concern. Only those who knew him best would know that his expressions were like a mask. You never did know quite what he was thinking.
The eyes weren’t right. By not right, I meant not Ed’s – which really wasn’t a fair comparison. Because, in all fairness, no one could have Ed’s eyes.
When he looked at you, you melted in pools of rippling, liquid gold.
And then he spoke, and it was with the same gentleness that I saw in his expression. "So...you are Roy Mustang, sir?"
And then he spoke, and it was with the same hardness that I saw in his expression. "You’re a bastard, Colonel. You know that?"
When I spoke back, I reflected the gentleness, and replied accordingly. "You...you look just like your brother," I lied, because that seemed to be what he wanted to hear. And certainly, it warranted the desired response, and he beamed at me.
When I spoke back, I reflected the hardness, and replied accordingly. "I believe Elysia is gaining on you, Fullmetal," I mused, because that was exactly what he hoped I wouldn’t say, I knew. And certainly, it warranted the desired response, and he scowled at me.
"Thank you, sir!" He chirped as he added three sugars to the bitter tea steaming away in his hand. He was distracted though, I could tell. Only one sugar actually ended up in his tea, and he seemed vaguely surprised that it still ran bitter on his tongue.
"Uh...so...you...knew Ed?" He put in tentatively, freezing before he added his brother’s name, as if it were taboo to speak. Now that I had gotten over the shock of seeing a dead mam at my door, the realization of what he was actually saying really hit me. Al’s uncomfortable behavior, his strange questions – he doesn’t remember me!"Of course I knew Ed, Alphonse!" I marveled., my eyes wide. "I knew you too. You remember, of course? You must. You separated fights between us at least twice a week." But the boy only looked down, no recognition, no familiarity. Only the stilted, stuffy formality that Edward never bothered with.
"Uh...no sir. I don’t remember anything from when I was trapped in that armor." And his expression suggested that he was all too familiar with this particular line, as well.
I vaguely resented his choice of words. Trapped was hardly right. Ed gave up his arm to give that body to you, godammit. The old Alphonse would have remembered that.
"Oh." I responded vaguely, because, again, I had known what his response would be already. And then something else struck me as odd; this Alphonse was so timid and naive. He wasn’t the Alphonse I knew, because my Alphonse had four years of hardship to make him bold and unafraid. In other words, this boy was little more than a total stranger.
"So...you came to hear about your brother, then?" I assumed that this could be the only explanation for his sudden arrival on my doorstep. It couldn’t have been the tea he came for, after all, because most of that had ended up in his lap when his hands refused to cease in their violent shaking.
After much mental debate, I chose not to ask about why he remembered absolutely nothing – and why his brother wasn’t with him (where his brother was? how did he die? why did he leave me? why him instead of you?!). If he felt as strongly for Ed as I did (which of course, he must have) he probably didn’t want to talk about it anyway. Besides, I wasn’t stupid. I could put two and two together.
"Y-y-yes, sir!" I felt my blood running cold. I didn’t want to talk about him; the wounds were far too fresh, still scabbing. I had only just stopped the free flow of blood. But there was a desperation in his eyes that tugged and ripped at my conscience.
Who are you to deny the boy his older brother?
So I gave in.
"Edward Elric was," I hesitated and he looked at me – rapt, intent, excited – so I continued. "Amazing. That’s the only way to describe it, really." He smiled, and I lost my breath for a moment with the sheer force of it. I went on.
And before long, I was confiding in him all my personal feelings about Ed, all the stories I knew, all the journeys that he had taken, all the lives that he had saved. I wove a colorful tapestry of heroic tales to the marveling Alphonse, who sat on the edge of his seat beaming and taking sips out of a tea cup that had gone dry hours ago. And when I ran out of happy stories to tell, I started on the sad ones, which were, depressingly, far more numerous.
By the time that I had ended with our final meeting in front of the church and the underground city that would claim his life, hours had flown by unnoticed and my face was covered in tears that I hadn’t realized were falling.
My clock struck eleven (almost midnight already?), and we waited silently for the chimes to pass before daring to meet each other’s eyes. He got up suddenly, and his familiar red jacket (so much like Ed, why hadn’t I notice before?) brushed his knees. I assumed that he would leave, find somewhere nice and private to cry or sulk or...or something. That’s what I wanted to do, anyway. But just as I turned to pick up Alphonse’s empty teacup, he grabbed my wrist, looked me straight in the eye...and oh God, oh God, Ed was there. Reborn in my tiny living room.
It was a moment before I realized that, no, Ed hadn’t risen from the phoenix’s ashes to live again. It was only Al’s eyes flashing a brilliant gold in the dim lamplight, his face contorting into a mask of unparalleled confidence and determination, his hair appearing to be tinted just a bit lighter, and the disappearance of his naivety and fear – if only for a moment. He spoke, and I found that my eyes were burning with tears again as the familiarity broke a dam suppressing years of fond memories.
"I’m trying to get my brother back."
"I’m trying to get my brother’s body back."
"And if you won’t help me, I’ll do it on my own."
I suppose that he took my speechlessness and gaping mouth for a "no," because in a fit of impatience befitting of his older brother, he marched for the door.
Now, looking back on it, I wish I had said more. But all that I managed was a feeble, "Good luck..." which earned a weak smile before he tromped out my door, and out of my life forever.
It wasn’t so hard to get up the next morning – what with no hangover to deal with and a mental image of Edward Elric crystal clear and complete to look to and draw strength from.
I only met him once.
Once was enough.
I was too afraid to let go.
I was too afraid that he was just going to slip away again, that I would lose him again, that he would be gone again forever. Forever this time, forever like the last time, forever like every time I saw him pale and drawn on white hospital sheets, panting and shaking and looking for all the world like he would melt and slip and slide like cool quicksilver between my fingertips – slither through the floorboards and out of my life forever.
I held him, drew him to my chest and let him remain there – inhaled that old scent, that familiar scent of machine oil and sweat, tainted now with a sharp pang of metallic blood. He was here, he was here in my fucking arms. Breathing and alive and – alive. I couldn’t seem to get past that word.
The excitement had awakened adrenaline and old emotions, and they flared and receded, flared and receded like fire in my veins with every unsteady beat of my heart. I felt it thudding painfully against my ribs and wondered vaguely if he could feel it, too through the strange fabric of his unfamiliar – tattered, brown, ugly – shirt. Too dull, brown was too dull for Fullmetal, I thought.
And then I realized that I didn’t care. I didn’t care if he knew of my weakness of heart; I didn’t care that he looked wrong – thin, pale, bleeding from the wrong sides (left arm, right leg? Hadn’t he lost just the opposite?). Not when this moment was so painfully sweet, when a long overdue reunion had just begun in a dark alleyway by a shady pub in Central.
Hurt! My mind screamed. He’s hurt, goddamn you! Get on your feet and get him out of rain! But that selfish, hideous, egocentric piece of me emerged from the darkest depths of my soul to tell me no! Not yet! You love this boy, you’ve missed this child as has the rest of the world – more so than so many others. This time is mine, I thought, mine with the child before the news was delivered, and the Rockbells arrived, and the reporters arrived, and Havoc and Ross and Hawkeye and Armstrong arrived, swooning over him. Before his brother met him.
More importantly, before he met his brother.
With that, I brought him closer to my chest, closed my eyes, released a shuddering breath.
He would get the attention he needed in due time – but I needed this moment alone with him more than I cared to admit. This was what I had been hoping for for two fucking years, this was my secret dream. A secret dream that had found me awakening night after endless night panting, sweating, and breathless – though I always questioned why. It wasn’t a bad dream, and only nightmares should merit that kind of reaction.
I would never remember the reason (which was, as it turned out, the ending of the dream) until midday at the office, when something or other would remind me of Edward, and my mind’s eye would pull me back to the horrifying portraits it had painted of the gate, and Edward being consumed by it limb by fucking limb – screaming and crying my name as I watched helplessly through one godforsaken eye.
Pathetic, it would tell me. Useless human. You’ve failed another, Roy Mustang. How many lives will you give to me before you finally give your own?
I would scream to myself, TOO MANY! Far too many! Before excusing myself to the bathroom and puking until the visions of Edward’s blood on the immaculate floor near The Gate was obscured by my own tears and sweat and vomit.
How many times had I dreamed of this moment? How long had I longed for another touch with the child in my arms, another chance to make things right with the worlds that had so suddenly and violently been parted? How long had I wanted to whisper apologies to something that wasn’t open air or my own hideous reflection?
"I’m sorry." I murmured into his skin. I saw my breath fog in the cool night air, and marveled at how warm I felt despite the chill around me. Was it his hot, slick, oozing blood keeping me warm – or was it something else entirely? "I’m just so damn sorry."
I started to get up. The moment was wonderful and heart wrenchingly, tangibly real – but the blood seeping into my military uniform did little to encourage my staying. We’re in an alley, my mind insisted. And it’s dark and wet and dirty – he probably already has an infection. I was the bastard he always told me I was just for keeping him here this long.
And then he spoke.
I froze – literally fucking froze in my uncomfortable crouch, halfway between kneeling and standing up entirely.
"A-Alph –," he started, but he broke off coughing, and blood flecked his lips with each haggard exhale.
He thought I was his goddamn brother.
"No Fullmetal, it’s me," I tried, hopefully. Slowly, so slowly, he cracked one golden eye, perhaps to see who exactly "me" was. Had he forgotten me in the years he’d been away? I bit my lip hard enough to draw blood at that thought. I didn’t forget you.
"Colonel?" It was weak, and he sounded vaguely surprised.
"Were you expecting Price Charming?" I flashed a weak, sarcastic grin, but it seemed my attempts at cleverness were lost entirely on him. He had one thing on his mind.
"W-where’s my brother? Is he alive? Is he al– " Again, he stopped, coughed, and shining droplets of blood rained on my lapel.
Internal bleeding? No good.
"He’s alright, Fullmetal. You did it." I smiled a genuine smile as I saw his reaction to those three simple words.
You did it. You fixed your brother. You made it home. You let the weight of the world slip off your shoulders. You finally, finally got exactly what you’d been hoping, dreaming, sweating, bleeding for all these years. Congratulations. I’m only sorry that I couldn’t be a part of it.
And with that last selfish, horrible, monstrous thought – my smile wavered.
"Tell me – " Again, he broke off in a rough, hacking cough, and it was almost too much for me to bear. Stupid. STUPID! Get him to a hospital. I stood suddenly, and perhaps it was the sudden change in stance, the all-too-fast increase in the amount of space between him and the ground, but Edward groaned softly and clutched my blood-soaked uniform.
"Shh. I’m taking care of everything. You’ll see your little brother soon." And he would, if I had anything to do with it. I might have been stripped of all my power and resources when I was stripped of my military position, but I still had connections, people in high places who trusted me, and the cunning to get things like this done. His brother would be found, and his brother would be on a train to Central by this time tomorrow. If I could give him nothing else, I would give him that.
I started out of the alley that I had found him in. It was wonderful coincidence, perhaps, that I had chosen this particular pub to drink myself out of my mind at tonight. It was a incredible coincidence that this was the alley he chose to fall in, bloodstained and broken. It was a terrible coincidence that today was October third, and only earlier that day I had stared at that watch engraving and thought of this golden child. And it was a stupid, stupid coincidence that I had gone staggering blindly into this alley minutes earlier, drunk out of my mind and groping for the gold that so closely resembled Edward’s hair only to find out that that was exactly what it was.
I’m not sure what I was expecting when I took him into my arms – a thank you, perhaps. Probably something more. I shouldn’t have been so disappointed when he was only interested in his brother’s welfare, and not my own. We had never been close enough, I suppose. But I cared for him, more than he knew. I cared for him and loved him so damn much, and perhaps I was just a tad too disappointed to find that he didn’t feel the same. His brother came first, I knew. His brother would always come first. But...but was some sort of recognition too much to ask?
"Colonel? You saw him?" He interrupted my thoughts. He was weak – losing blood, losing consciousness. I would prolong this moment as much as I could before he slipped away and I lost him forever to those who he loved in return. I would prolong my precious moment as long as I possibly (selfishly) could.
"Yes. He came to me to ask about you not too long ago." I replied and was proud that my voice never wavered.
"He...he...What did you think of him?" He said breathlessly. His tone was expectant, childishly so and...nervous? As if...
"He was beautiful."
"Did I...Did I do well?"
As if he was seeking my approval?
"Edward," I began thickly, my throat clogged with emotion. He wanted my opinion? He wanted to know what I thought about the most dear, most precious thing to him? Edward didn’t openly express love...but...but...this was just about as close as he got. Edward always had, for lack of a better term, loved through his little brother.
It was a moment before I realized that he was still gazing at me expectantly through heavy-lidded eyes, fighting off fatigue until he received the answer he seemed to want – need – so much.
"Amazing." I managed to stutter, before I realized that didn’t really answer the question and tried again. "You did so, so well." He nodded, smiled softly, looked more content than I had ever seen him in all our years together.
I walked on into the rain.________________
Comments are very much appreciated. ^__^