Title: "On the Wings of a Dream" - Al/Riza Ficlet (Appx. Chapter 10)
Authors:theregaltigress and crazyloststar
Characters: This: Al, Riza, (The Rest of the Fic: Ed, Roy, Havoc, and more. :) )
Rating: This: PG (The Highest in the Rest of the Fic: R)
Genre: AU (sky_dark's BLTA AU, to be precise), This particular section is angst with a side of light romance/hope (The Rest of the Fic: generally Humor, Drama, Angst, Romance, Fluff)
Pairing(s): This: Riza/Al (pending), (The Rest of the Fic: Roy/Ed, mention of Past!Roy/Riza,, Havoc/OC)
Length of this (Mini-)Chapter: 2,513 words
Length of the (Edited) Story to Date: 27,548 words
As this fic is inspired from sky_dark's BLTA (("On the Wings of a Dream" takes place somewhere approximately between BLTA Chapters 7 and 9, so it is a 'tweener fic), so if you haven't read that far into her wonderful fic, you might find a few spoilers within. To get the full impact of this story series, familiarity with "The Adventures of Roy Mustang: Sex Ed Teacher" and its continuation, "Better Living Through Alchemy" would be particularly helpful, but if you aren't, hopefully we can get you up to speed. :) This is based on sky_dark's unique AU "take" on the end of the series, so there are some post-episode 51 "whiffs" and flickers of some movie backstory within the story as a whole. Obviously, since we are not sky_dark, this is not canon to BLTA, but as writers we are trying to stay as true to the characters/events in it as we possibly can. :)
CHAPTER 1: PART 1 (Includes Summary/Prologue) + Art
CHAPTER 1: PART 2
CHAPTER 2 + Art
CHAPTERS 5 - 8+: Editing in Progress
APPX. CHAPTER 9: Riza(/Al) Ficlet
APPX. CHAPTER 10: Al/Riza Ficlet
Notes on This Ficlet:
This particular "mini-chapter" was Written and Edited by theregaltigress, and was written originally to be almost a flashback into Al's past. I wanted to delve into the connection between Al and Riza in Al's earlier years when he was still searching for Ed, and this is the result.
This is meant to take place somewhere towards the end of this "tweener" fic, but I opted to post it now since it's fairly stand-alone and not very plot-centric (since is takes place mostly inside a dream). Generally, it takes place after a military gala Riza (professionaly) attended with Alphonse (all which has been written, but has not been edited and uploaded yet), and before Al's eighteenth/Twenty-Second Birthday and the latter events within BLTA.
That said: Enjoy!
APPX.: CHAPTER 10
In his dream, he was fourteen. While countless other sleeping forms across Amestris dreamed of what might have been, or fantasized about what the future might hold, instead Alphonse's mind unconsciously drew up memories from his past.
Ever since he had gotten his memories back in full, the vivid dreams came more frequently, as if making up for all the years of lost time when he wasn't able to dream at all. He'd sometimes wondered in passing if it was during these midnight hours that he had truly begun to piece together the strange chronology of his life.
But in his dream, he was only fourteen.
In those times, he had lived as a part of the only reality he'd ever known. A reality amass with more questions than answers, and more longing than comfort.
It was Fall. He remembered it because he recalled how out of season it was for there to have been so much rain, and thereby, so much mud.
He stood in the bathroom at East Headquarters shivering and cursing lightly under his breath as he struggled to clean his long-lost brother's deep red coat. While the coat offered shelter from both the scorching sun of the Great Desert and the wind, with the amount of rain they had been having lately had left the fabric of the coat in a perpetual state of saturation. But Al still wore it, even if it left his under suit wet as well.
He could tolerate many things, but seeing the mud on his brother's coat had pushed the boy over the edge. He could remember when the item from a bygone era had been huge on him, how the first time he'd received it he had spent the better part of the next twenty-four hours running his fingers along it, as if willing the thick piece of cloth to tell him its secrets, to remind him of the brother he only remembered in part. He could remember how he'd refused to launder it for so long because he was frightened that doing so would erase that faint, comforting scent that he could only assume was his brother.
Even after the scent had faded, sometimes he'd still clutch it, feeling so often as if it was the only remaining tangible link to a brother that grew to be ever more a mystery to him.
But in the years since, he'd finally grown into the coat, and had only recently gotten some of it re-stitched to better fit him. He'd put off getting it altered for so long for many reasons. It was his brother's coat, not his. When Al managed to get him back, he wanted to be able to hug his brother and hand over the item with a smile: to show him that the coat had been in safekeeping all the while he'd been gone.
But most of all, he'd put off getting it altered because secretly it had seemed that that coat, with its once baggy arms and almost painfully large size had once been the only way he'd really kept track of how time had passed. He'd promised himself he would tirelessly work to get his brother back, to do whatever he needed to do to restore the missing part of his past, and as the coat grew progressively more fitting and then tight on him, it has been like sand ever-slipping through n hourglass, and he'd felt for so long that once the coat had ceased to fit him, either his brother would have since returned, or it would be time for him to give up hope of him ever returning.
But that time had come and passed, and instead Alphonse had pushed himself even harder into his work. He'd been having dreams off and on of his brother, alive and well somewhere far away, staring up at the same sky. Try as he might sometimes, he simply couldn't move on, not then.
So there he was, four years since his brother's disappearance, standing in a lavatory vigorously scrubbing at mud that had gotten along the coat on his way into work that morning. The mud had just… unsettled him, and he realized it was bothering him much more than it logically should, but seeing it so muddy had made him feel like somewhere deep down it was corrupting his memory of Edward, and moreover that seeing it tattered or dirty made it seem to Alphonse that his brother's return was a lost cause, and that was the last thing he wanted to think about right then. It smelled tainted, almost rotten to his mind.
Silently, tears ran down his cheeks as his bare, shivering hands worked at the fabric of the coat, willing it to be fresh and renewed in ways alchemy simply couldn't manage.
His Master's death continued to haunt him. He'd known she was sick for a long time, but somehow he had just assumed with each passing day that somehow her strength would have allowed her to cheat death. But it hadn't. Like so much else he'd seen, her life had been, in the end, just as frail as any other.
Being around she and her husband Sig had made Alphonse feel like he was part of a family again. Once Izumi died, it felt like he had been thrust into a harsh, unflinching, lonely reality. She had lived to hear that he'd become a State Alchemist so he could pursue his brother's disappearance. She hadn't been happy about it, but she had understood.
The memory of her, however, haunted Alphonse. He'd worked so hard to become a State Alchemist so he could find Ed, and yet his research had met with yet another dead end. For some reason, this time he felt like giving up hope entirely. The sight and smell of the dirtied coat had been the final stroke that had sent him over the edge with the sad realization that not only might his brother never return, but that while no one would tell Alphonse it to his face, he could tell sometimes by the way people looked at him that they believed his quest might be all for naught, as Ed might simply be long-dead. A lost cause in the direst meaning of the word.
He'd been denying the possibility for so long. He'd always clutched to some fraction of hope that if he just worked a little harder, researched a little longer, kept on smiling even when he didn't feel it deep down inside, that somehow there was reason enough to keep going. Maybe that was why his fingers rubbed over the rough red fabric so insistently: they willed that hope to reemerge through the grime.
A person or two had entered the lavatory, but Alphonse didn't take time to see who it was. His eyes, instead, stayed focus on his busywork until in a moment of panic he realized that he needed to go, or he would be late for his mandatory meeting with his superior.
The Major had wrung out the coat over the sink and waved it twice in the air to restore its general shape before he'd replaced the damp fabric over his shoulders once again and chanced a glace at himself in the mirror.
His eyes were bloodshot, and his face stained with the trails of many more than one silent tear. His face was flush, and he was very possibly sick, but in truth he didn't care. He felt like an utter failure. He didn't look remotely professional or mature, two things he always struggled to put forward, to prove that the military hadn't made a wrong decision in making him a Sate Alchemist. He always felt he had to make sure he came across properly, since it was by being a State Alchemist, and the benefits and connections it assured, that Al had hoped to return his brother home. If he faltered, even once, and gave anyone right to question their decision, he worried his hope for a happy reunion would die with the return of his brother's engraved pocket watch to military hands.
So, there Alphonse stood, staring at his own ailing countenance in the mirror. One hand had been stuffed into his pocket, roughly clutching Ed's old State watch so hard that the cover would probably leave impressions on his hand. His other hand was wrenched closed as he stood, cold and shivering. He had to stop crying. He had to go, had to leave the safety and seclusion of the lavatory. He had to put on another one of his cheerful smiles, even though inside he felt like he was breaking, felt, now, after yet another dead-end in finding his brother, that it was finally time to give up and accept the inevitable.
He practiced a fake smile in the mirror and rubbed the sleeve of his free hand over his face. The boy in the mirror struggled to dry the remaining evidence of his plight with a sleeve that was already damp from yet another harsh and rainy morning, but soon he knew it was time to go: he couldn't be late.
He knocked twice on her office door, and heard her familiar voice from within tell him to come in.
Usually it was custom for Pharr or Havoc to let him in, but one or the other must have been out of official business, Al deduced. And for once, he was alone with her.
Alphonse had always felt that his entire military career, and likewise, his hope of finding his brother rested on her shoulders, so he always made an intense effort to be exceptionally professional around her, to impress her, to show her that he was worth keeping on. But as he entered her office, he couldn't help but wonder at once if her faith in him had been misplaced. After all: she had on her desk yet another report from him that had led nowhere, that had been a waste of expenditures, and both the military, Al, and particularly her time time.
Somehow, he managed to still snap to an overly professional salute as he tried to cover the weakness he felt in his throat and heart, "Colonel."
She looked up at him across the room and it took a moment longer than usual for her to get to her feet and salute him in kind, "Major." Her hand went at ease and his followed suit.
He was trying to read her eyes, then, as she looked at him from across the room. He worried she could see right through him, see how much of a failure he really was, how fake his half-smile remained.
This was where he usually told him to take a seat, and the fact she hadn't sent him into a panic. Was he about to be let off? Could she feel the heavy weight in the room as clearly as he could? His lip quivered as he stood there, trying to avoid her gaze all the while he could feel her intense eyes on him. He waited for what he finally accepted as the inevitable as he struggled to hold himself together and not cry.
Instead, silence had lingered in the room. He averted his eyes entirely now, worrying she'd be able to see the barely-contained tears he struggled to hold back. When he heard her footsteps, his hand had latched onto his pocket watch even more tightly, and it seemed that all he could hear was his frantic heart-rate and the steady way his coat dripped small droplets of water onto the stone floor.
Instead of the reprimand he'd assumed would come, the next thing he knew, he'd felt strong arms around him. They pulled him close and held him there as he shook in place and squeezed his eyes shut.
There with a gentleness in her voice that he wasn't used to, that wrapped itself around him like a cocoon, "It's okay, Alphonse," she said softy as he cradled his head over her shoulder, "it's just a setback, you shouldn't give up yet. There's still hope."
He cried then, like he had never cried in front of anyone before. He buried his face deep in her shoulder and finally wept for the past he didn't remember, for the brother he couldn't find, for his dead mother, missing father, and dead mentor. And he cried and for his friends, who for some reason he couldn't fathom, wouldn't give up on him even when by all means he thought they should.
He wept openly on her shoulder as his body racked with sobs. Amazingly, at least to him, she just stood there with him, holding him and rubbing his back to comfort him. She didn't say anything else, she just let him cry as she stood there with him, seemingly sheltering him from the rest of the world.
When enough time passed, and Alphonse could feel his breathing even out, somewhere in the back of his mind he realized he was still sopping wet, and therefore, he was undoubtedly getting Colonel Hawkeye's uniform damp as well. He gave her shoulder a weak squeeze to let her know he was okay, and with that she'd stepped back as he rubbed his sleeve against his face again, once again aware of his surroundings and likewise embarrassed to have broken-down in front of a superior.
The way she reached over and took his shoulder, however, bid him to look back up into her face. They were nearly the same height, and she'd smiled at him in a reassuring way. It wasn't the smile she usually used at work, and he could just tell somehow how absolutely genuine it was. "Don't worry so much," she spoke, "Take the rest of the day off and I'll debrief you come Monday morning. The weather is supposed to be lifting, you know."
She squeezed his shoulder once more to make sure he understood and was okay before she turned and returned to her desk. Alphonse had only been able to nod numbly in reply, so fearful was he of trying to work his voice.
She'd saluted him again, with that reassuring smile still evident on her features, "You're dismissed, Major. Have a good weekend, and I'll see you Monday."
He saluted back, and had looked at her a moment more, making sure this really was entirely 'okay' before he turned and gratefully left for home to gather his thoughts and with renewed purpose, to resume his search for his brother.
When Alphonse Elric woke from his dream, he lay there in bed wondering what had brought that collection of memories on. He stared at the ceiling, thinking, until he realized that at the gala, he'd finally, finally, been able to thank Riza for that, among so many other things.
He also wondered, just in passing, when it had been that he had finally started to inch closer and closer to falling in love with the Riza he'd first seen that dreary Fall morning.