Now, on to the random stuff:
This screencapture is actually from a Fruits Basket episode, but it made me think of FMA and Edward strongly enough that I got chills. I considered iconing it, but then the text is too small.
Next, can anyone direct me to a site that has good, concise summaries of each episode? Don't knock yourself out looking, it's a little thing. I'm entertaining the idea of doing parody summaries for all the episodes, but I can't always remember what happens in which ep.
And finally, your fic for the night.
Spoilers: Episode 7.
They were late. It wasn't their fault; one delay after another had plagued their steps. What ought to have been a routine assignment in Hilago had turned bad, the one-day stopover becoming three. That should still have left them with time enough to get back to Central, check in with Headquarters and drop their stuff off in Ed's assigned dormitory and still attend to their ritual.
But the train, picking up the unhelpful spirit that seemed to be plaguing them that day, had broken down two stops from Central. The engineers predicted a half-hour delay, which turned into an hour, then two, and then four, before the car finally came back online and clattered away towards the city.
"We could have walked back to Central by now," Ed ranted. He shifted on the seat, fidgeting impatiently until even his brother's almost limitless tolerance was worn thin.
"Niisan," he said reproachfully. "You know the train is the fastest way back. There was no helping the repairs."
"If Winry had been here, the engine would have been fixed in fifteen minutes," Ed whined, slouching down further.
"But she wasn't here, and the engineers worked as quickly as they could," Al reminded him. "If you'd pitched in like you wanted you would have only slowed them down."
"We're going to be late," Ed said. "We already are late, in fact." He pulled out his watch and flipped it open -- again. Normally he could go weeks without even taking it out of his pocket, but today he couldn't seem to stop fiddling with it.
Of course, he wasn't the only one feeling irritated and impatient, but as usual, it fell on Al to be the rational one. "It's okay," he said. "We'll go there straight from the train station. There's a bakery on the way so we can buy a cake there, since we couldn't get one from the cafeteria this time."
"But we're going to be late, on her birthday," Ed said again, and Al had to suppress a longsuffering sigh.
"I'm not any happier about it than you are, Niisan," Al said, a little more sharply than he'd intended. Ed turned a heated look on him, so he added in a lighter tone, "She'll forgive us. What little girl won't forgive her 'big brothers' for coming to her party?"
"Yeah," Ed said moodily, and collapsed back into a sprawl on his bench. He stared out the window, as though willing the train to move faster. "What should her present be this year?" he said after a minute.
"Well, let's see." Al turned to think about it. Normally they, or at least Al, would have planned this out weeks in advance; things had just been too busy lately. "She's a little old for a rocking horse, I think," he said.
"Maybe a doll?" Ed cocked his head, thinking about it. "Little girls never get tired of dolls."
"We already gave her one of those last year, Niisan," Al reminded him. "You need to be more creative."
"Ah, Al, you're the one who's good at this sort of stuff!" Ed groaned. "Not a doll, then. How about a stuffed toy?"
"That's a thought," Al allowed. "Maybe a kitten or a puppy?"
"A puppy," Ed said firmly.
"A kitten," Al put a hint of steel in his voice. "She already has a puppy."
"Whatever you say." Ed surrendered the conversation to Al, as he usually ended up doing. As he'd said, Al was better at picking this sort of stuff than he was.
The sun was starting to sink towards the hills, and Ed focused on it, unaware that he was frowning fiercely. Go faster, he silently urged the train. We're already late.
+ + +
Fortunately, as it was near closing time, there weren't many people in the bakery. The matronly-looking shop owner looked at them over the tops of her glasses, and smiled benignly. "Isn't this a pretty big cake for just the two of you?" she asked them with some amusement.
"O-oh -- no," Ed flinched a bit, turning to look up at Al. "It's not all for us, you see..."
"A friend is having a birthday today," Al told her. "We're picking up the cake on our way to see her. I'm sorry we're in such a rush, but we're already late..."
"Ah, well, you're a good pair of boys," she smiled, and slid the box towards them. "I hope she appreciates that you're doing such a nice favor for her. And the cake, as well. It's one of our finest."
"Yeah." Ed pushed the money over the counter, and Al picked up the box. "Nothing less than the best."
"Don't let it sit out overnight," she called after them as they left, "or it will go stale. And don't eat too much of it too quickly, or you'll get sick!"
+ + +
"That's the cake, then" Al said, setting it out and opening the box. "Did you bring candles?"
"Yeah, I got them," Ed said, slipping his right hand into his pocket and fishing around. Out came the little box of candles, and he counted them out; one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. He crouched over the delicate cake box, patterned with golden swirls and pink ribbons, and placed the candles carefully in the white frosting.
Behind him, Al busied himself clearing a space on the ground and drawing the array. It was the simplest of arrays, really; and after all this time, there was no way that Ed would still need one. He could have just clapped his hands, pressed them to the neatly mown lawn, and created whatever he wanted. He didn't. This was their ritual.
The last of the afternoon sun flooded the plot, as if everything in sight were touched with warm honey. It was still warm, not yet cooled towards evening, even though the shadows were growing long. Ed struck a match, and reflected that at least the candles would be beautiful, in the twilight.
"Niisan," Al called him. "It's ready."
"All right," Ed said. He quickly lit the candles on the cake, one after another. Then he straightened up and stepped back, letting the flickering light play over the stone, and turned to Al.
Al was already in position, kneeling at the edge with his hands on the array. Ed knelt beside him, mirroring his position. "A stuffed kitten, right?" he asked Al, who nodded.
It really didn't take much. A flash of light, not much brighter than the dancing candles, and a few seconds resolved in a neat plush toy in the center of the circle. Ed touched it, hesitantly, with his human hand, and then picked it up and cradled it in the crook of his arm. It was soft; the fur felt almost real. He smiled. "It's perfect, he said.
They both knelt, now, in front of the grave, and Ed sat the toy next to the cake with eight candles.
"Happy Birthday, Nina," Al murmured, and: "Happy Birthday," Ed echoed.
"Well, congratulations on being eight," Ed went on. "I hear that if someone says 'congratulations' to you many times on your birthday, good things will happen to you. So... congratulations!"
"We hope you like your present," Al added. "Next year, maybe we'll bring you a new marker set. And hopefully then we'll be on time with it, and not have to rush to get everything at the last minute."
"You wouldn't believe the delays we had getting here," Ed said. "Sorry we're late. Sorry we were late. Sorry..."
"Niisan," Al interrupted him, quietly but firmly. Ed bit his lip, and nodded.
"I know," he said, both to Al and to the gravestone. "We aren't supposed to talk about things like that today. But it's okay. We brought you your present, and your cake. See? Your big brothers aren't total losses, after all."
They were silent, for a moment. Al's eyes were fixed on the sweet green grass. Ed swallowed, and thought maybe he'd better not talk any more. So it was a relief when, as the shadows lengthened, Al lifted his head.
"Let's do it," he said, equally softly. They both laid their hands on the edge of the grave, and the light returned. It quickly engulfed the light of the eight candles, and the plush gray kitten, and dissolved them in a swirl of gold. The brothers lifted their hands away, and nothing remained, except for a faint swirl of dust that settled quickly in the grass.
Ed sighed, and brushed the dust off his pants. "We'll see you next year, Nina," he said. It wasn't what he wanted to say. There were a lot of things he wanted to say, but he'd said them all before, over and over, so many times until Al made him stop, and they never did any good then either. So there was only one other thing he could say.