It hurt Izumi to see Alphonse in such a state of distress. The boy was practically inconsolable half the time, and the other half, he spent with such headstrong determination that seemed far too mature for such a young boy. Izumi had spent many nights with her beloved husband discussing the changes that they saw in the young boy, and they had come to one conclusion. Al needed to be reunited with his long-gone older brother. Neither Izumi nor her husband could come up with a method of going about getting the boys back together. It didn't seem that Alphonse was having any greater luck.
It was only when Izumi's husband died at the ripe age of fourty-three that she began to understand the depth of Alphonse's suffering; Being taken away from her other half left her with the same kind of half-existance that she could see when she looked in Alphonse's eyes. It was for this reason that Izumi would vow her life to bring these boys together.
Alphonse woke up at the punctual hour of six o'clock a.m. and proceeded to take a shower and walk down for breakfast. When Al arrived in the kitchen, he expected to see his teacher waiting for him in one of her moods. The only person Al found was Mason staring out the window. Alphonse cleared his throat, bowed slightly, then took his normal seat at the dining table. It was the same seat that Al had used when he was training with his brother, and though he did not remember, it was the same seat that he used when he had returned to Izumi's home in the armor body.
Mason glanced behind him upon hearing the sound of the chair legs scraping against the tile floor. "Oh, good morning Alphonse. Izumi's not going to be able to make it for breakfast, she wanted me to give you this." Mason walked over and placed a simple white envelope infront of Al, written on it was Alphonse's name in his teacher's curved, yet strong handwriting. Once the letter was delivered, Mason served Alphonse breakfast; it was scrambled eggs, bacon, buttered toast, and a glass of milk.
Alphonse set the letter to the side and began to consume his breakfast, without a word of thanks or greeting to Mason. Al was taken aback a little by the lack of company and it was putting him in one of his lonely moods. Al tried to imagine how Edward would tell him he was just being stupid, but it didn't even bring a smile to his face. Sometimes when Al would imagine Edward, he would talk to the image and play and joke, and it would be just like old times... but as time went by, the image faded just a little bit, and it slowly became nothing but a hollow picture in his mind. It always made Al sad when he realized that he was forgetting the little things that made Edward who he was.
Mason watched Alphonse for a couple moments, then excused himself from the room. Mason went to the back so that he could work on something to take his mind off of everything. Mason was having a hard enough time dealing with the sudden death of his own older brother, and now his sister-in-law left him with a note saying that she would not be returning to Dublith.
After Alphonse had his fill of breakfast, which wasn't much because when he felt lonely, it was always harder for him to eat, he picked up the white envelope and opened it up. The envelope hadn't been sealed, so it was easy for Al to do so. Al pulled out the folded sheet of paper, opened it up, and began to read.
I would rather have explained this in person, but I do not believe that I have time for that. I have enclosed enough money for train tickets back to Rizenbul, and I would like you to go to the train station as soon as you can. You will not be able to find me, even if you try looking. I am no longer in Dublith. Please, do not worry about me. You just need to worry about yourself. I believe that the answers that you seek will be found in Rizenbul. I can teach you no more about this, and it is up to you from this moment forth to find your brother.
Alphonse read over the letter twice before it sank in. Al's teacher was dismissing him, and he was no closer to his goals than when he arrived in Dublith. Al felt frustrated, he had no clue what he was supposed to do now. Al left the half-emptied plates and went to his bedroom in silence. Al packed his things, and left without even telling Mason that he was going.
At the trainstation, Al paid for his tickets and sat down to wait for a train. Al looked around the area, and it was familiar to him; he had gone home with Edward from this trainstation. Something told Al that there was more, but it was just like everything else; It was like trying to reach for something that was behind glass.
Winry jumped when she heard the sudden rapping at the door. She put down her wrench and wiped the grease from her fingers, calling to the stranger to hold on. Winry peeked through the peephole before daring to open the door, and she was surprised to see who the visiter was.
As soon as the door was opened, Winry couldn't help but notice that something, rather someone, was missing. "Is everything alright? Where's Alphonse?"
Izumi smiled slightly at Winry, "He's on his way. I want to know, is it alright if I use the shed?" There were dark circles under the older woman's eyes, the wrinkles in her skin seemed more pronounced than they were the last time that Winry had seen her.
"Go right ahead, is there anything in particular you need?" Winry was surprised by the appearance of Izumi. Winry had heard about the tragic heart attack that Seig suffered not too long ago, but she had not witnessed the effect it had on Izumi.
"No, there's nothing I need. Oh wait--" there was a brief pause as Izumi searched her person for something, she brought out a white envelope and held it out to the younger woman, "Here, take this. You'll know who to give it to when the time comes..."
Winry took the envelope, glancing over it. Winry was confused, what did all this mean? She was worried for Alphonse's safety. By the time Winry looked up to ask, she saw Izumi's back as she walked towards the shed. Izumi disappeared behind the large doors, and they closed tight behind her.
Edward Elric was walking down a park path in Transylvania, on his way to the apartment he lived in alone when he felt a sudden dizziness. Ed had to lean over a picnic bench; his breath was panting and his heart was racing. Ed felt as though he was being subject to some cruel act of voodoo. To Ed, it felt like hot needles stabbing and ripping through his skin. The pain started at his temples and spread to the rest of his head, then to his chest, and then it consumed him entirely.
Ed couldn't hold himself up any longer, and his body was thrown to the ground in uncontrolable convulsions. It hurt. It hurt like hell. It felt like Ed's body and his mind were being shredded. Ed's hold on consciousness faded fast, and then there was darkness.
Edward awoke to the sound of a high-pitched scream. When Ed sat, he noticed that he was surrounded and covered in dark blood. The smell was so overwhelming that it was nauseating. When Ed looked up, the brightness hurt his eyes, but he squinted them to make out the figure standing before him. It was Winry... but how did Winry get here? Did something go wrong in his transmutation?
"Edward?" Winry ran over to Edward as fast as she could, her eyes wide with amazement. If Edward was here, then where was Izumi? Winry looked at the black-red smears across Edward's face and shoulders.
"Winry... Al, where's Al...?" Edward lifted his arms, a frown crossing his face. His arms were perfect, despite being covered in blood. Both arms were human and both his own. This blood couldn't possibly be Al's blood, right? "Why are you here...?"
Winry was taken aback by the question; she was here because she lived here! Maybe Edward thought that they were somewhere else? Winry moved a little closer, holding both arms down for Edward to help himself up. Winry was startled at the fleshy feel of Edward's right arm. Winry hadn't even noticed that the automail was missing until Ed had grabbed her wrists. "Ed... Al's on his way back, let's get you cleaned up... I have something for you inside."
Edward followed Winry out of the shed and into her house where she cleaned him up. Ed was given his white letter, and he opened it up immediately and started to read. Winry had left him in the bathroom so he could soak in warm water for a while to get the blood out of his hair. Ed was careful not to get the paper wet when he took the letter out and unfolded it. Ed began to read.
If you received this letter, then my plan has worked. You succeeded in restoring your brother, but at a great price and great loss to us all. Alphonse does not recall anything after the moment his body was lost to the transmutation of your mother. Winry and I have been trying to fill him in, but nothing seems to jog his memory. I think only you will be able to help him in this.
You are probably wondering what idiocy it was that I have done. I did the same thing as you did, child. There's nothing left for me here but you and your brother. Seig passed a few months ago, if you must know. Whenever I look into Alphonse's eyes, all I can see is the emptiness that has taken over the bright, curious eyes I used to know. Alphonse spends his every moment both awake and not, with you on his mind. In his dreams, he babbles about you, and while he is awake he asks about you (when he speaks at all). It really hurts me to see him like this, you must understand. It isn't the Alphonse that I used to know.
Since the one thing that I have left is the two of you, I wanted to do my part in giving you both the life that you deserve. I don't want you to try and make amends by bringing me back. I will be happier with Seig, and away from the troubles of the world. What you can do to return the favor is to take care of Alphonse like you were meant to do.
Edward gulped down a lump in his throat as he read through the letter. Through the process of reading and taken it in, tears splashed on the sheets and made the bold lines bleed and become swirls of ink in the middle of the page. Edward folded up the letter with a heavy heart, took in a deep breath, and looked at the bathroom window wondering when Alphonse will come home.
Winry joined her grandmother in the backroom once she left Edward to wash. Winry still had blood smeared on her arms and clothes because she was so interested in washing Edward that she forgot to clean it off herself.
"Winry, what happened? Is someone injurred?" The husky voice of Winry's grandmother was full of worry. The shrunken old woman walked over to her distraught granddaughter and her brows furrowed in stern curiousity.
"Oh, Izumi came over to use the shed. When I went to check on her, I found Edward in a puddle of blood..." Winry rubbed her hands over her arms; she was shaking from what she just witnessed. Winry followed her grandmother when she was lead to a chair to sit down.
"Edward, are you serious? You don't think she..." Pinako waited for Winry to nod her head before she immitated the gesture. "Well, where's the boy now?"
"Ed's in the washroom... he was covered in blood. He kept ranting about an underground city, and the Philosopher's Stone. Do you think that he's lost his mind...?" Winry took her grandmother's small hands in her own, more for her own comfort than Pinako's.
"Do you remember what Rose said when she brought Alphonse home to us. He was in a similar state, babbling about their mother and how they were trying to do something awful... and she never really told us where she was when she found Al." Pinako stroked Winry's hand lightly, then moved back to sit down herself. "I think maybe Edward is as confused as Al was, I don't think he has lost his mind. I will go see him if you want, then I can--
Pinako was cut off by the sound of knocking at the front door. Winry was the first one to stand, so she let Winry get the door. Pinako looked down at her wrinkled hands, letting out a long sigh.
Alphonse was at the door, his round eyes staring up at her. Al didn't wait to be invited in. Al returned his head to the downcast position it was in before. In Al's hands, he had a folded letter that was addressed to him. "Sensei told me to come back here... she said there was something here that could help me find answers."
Winry shut the door behind Alphonse and bit her lip at the words Alphonse spoke. "I think that what you're looking for is in the upstaires, you should go put your suitcases in your bedroom."
Alphonse gave Winry an empty smile and nodded his head, then walked up the staires slowly. Al recognized the scent of blood on Winry, but he didn't say anything about it. Al opened the door to his bedroom, it was unlocked, and he noticed that the bathroom light was on.
Edward had his head under the water to rinse the shampoo out of his hair when the door to the other room was opened. When Ed sat up, he could sense that someone else was in the room. "Winry, is that you?"
Alphonse's eyes widened slightly. Al stared at the entrance to the bathroom. That voice, it was familiar... very familiar. The last time Al had heard the voice, it was much higher-pitched and innocent. Alphonse took a tentative step and held his breath as he peeked through the bathroom door.
Gold eyes met hazel-grey and they stared at eachother in silence for many moments before Alphonse nearly jumped into the bathtub with Edward to embrace him in a tight hug. Edward squeazed the small frame of his younger brother just as tightly.
"Niisan? Is it really you? Are you really here?" Edward looked down to see Alphonse's eyes staring in such unsure bewilderment. "What happened to you? Why did you leave me? Why did the world grow when I didn't?"
Edward waited for Alphonse to continue his onslaught of questions, but they didn't continue. Al had let him go and he had moved to sit in the center of the bathroom floor. Al put his hands over his eyes, and his was body shaking from his sobs.
"Aru... I'll try to answer everything, but I just want to hold you right now... come back over here. Don't cry, okay?" Ed was disturbed by the reaction he got. Ed knew that Alphonse wouldn't remembered, because he had made sure of it. Ed knew that the memories would just hinder Al's ability to find happiness.
"No... don't touch me, just answer my questions," tear-filled hazel-grey eyes turned up towards him. Ed was startled by the sudden change in posture, and he stared in fearful curiousity at the sharpness in Alphonse's eyes.
"Alright... I'll answer you first. It really is me, Aru... I... I can't tell you what happened to me, because I don't really know. I remember transmuting myself so that you could have your body back, and then I woke up in Winry's shed just a few minutes ago. Winry said I've been gone for four years..." Edward felt his throat getting dry, Al's eyes were still glaring at him; it felt like those eyes alone were daggers penetrating his skin. "I didn't want to leave you, I planned to somehow come back some day. And as for your other question... I didn't want you to remember any of the bad stuff, and I wanted to give you a chance to grow up and be happy."
"Happy..." Al's voice sounded bitter, and it made Edward wince to hear that voice that used to be so full of optomism sound so harsh. Even when Al's voice was accompanied by the hollow echo of Al's soul residing in the armor, it still maintained the caring and soft tone that was Alphonse's. This voice didn't sound like the Alphonse he'd grown up with. It somehow sounded even more hollow than the armor voice. "How do you think that abandoning me would make me happy?"
"Abandoning you? I was trying to make things right!" Edward didn't mean to yell, and it scared him that the boy's mouth turned up slightly on one side in a snarky grin.
"Ah, so the blame is mine, dear brother..." his voice was still just as bitter. Alphonse stood and glared down at the older boy in the tub. Al shook his head, then gifted him with another glare. "If you wanted to make things right, you sure screwed up. I've searched for you for so long... and now here you are, acting like nothing ever happened. You left me, you abandoned me, and I hate you!"
Edward couldn't get out of the tub in time to catch Alphonse before he turned and left the room. Ed sunk back down into the luke-warm water, eyes wide with disbelief, guilt, and betrayal. Ed closed his eyes and felt hot tears streak down his face before his sobs broke the silence. "I'm sorry... Aru, I'm so sorry..."
Winry was in the livingroom when Alphonse rushed down the stairs with his luggage. She walked over to him, surprised that he hadn't set the luggage down yet. "Al, is there something wrong? Did I forget to leave the door unlocked?"
"No, you remembered. He was in there..." Alphonse looked up at Winry, his eyes were cold, but she could see the tears in them. "I told him what I needed to, and now I'm going...."
"You're not going anywhere," it was the voice of Winry's grandmother as she entered the room. Her eyes were just as cold as Alphonse's were. "You haven't finished confronting your brother, and you know it. Did you let him get a chance to tell his side of the story?"
"What story? He just says he doesn't remember." Alphonse matched his glare to the aged woman's. Al watched as Pinako approached him, and was a little surprised at the sting in his face after she slapped him.
"Get ahold of yourself. You know as well as I do, that you were searching for your brother so you wouldn't be alone anymore. Let's go to the kitchen--Winry, you go get Edward."
Winry nodded her head, running over to the stairs and then up. Once Winry was gone, Pinako led Alphonse to the kitchen to make some tea for the both of them.
Winry found Edward in the tub of pink water. His head was on his knees and she could hear the sobs even before she opened the bedroom. "Ed," Winry said softly.
"Go away!" Edward growled and turned his head away from Winry. Ed hated to be seen crying, and he didn't want her to know that he was hurting. Ed didn't want her sympathy.
"Get some clothes on, I need to talk to you..." Winry stepped back, shutting the bathroom door to give Edward some privacy. Winry sat down on the bed, looking down at her knees and waiting for Edward to come into the bedroom.
Edward opened the door a few minutes later. Ed was wearing the towel and his hair was down and messy. Edward's face was still red and splotchy, but Winry didn't say anything about it. "Didn't have a change of clothes..." There was something missing from Ed's voice, some bounce that was taken since Alphonse went to see him.
"Edward... It's fine, I've seen everything. But... I need to talk to you. It's important... Grandma and your teacher too... We've all agreed on this in the last year or so. Alphonse..." Winry shook her head a little, waiting to be asked to continue.
"I really screwed up bad this time, huh?" Edward fought to keep the tears in his eyes from spilling down his cheeks. Ed opened up the dresser that he had used when he stayed here, and he was glad to find that his clothes were still in there. Ed took a set of clothes out and put them on, ignoring Winry's presence. Winry had seen almost everything anyway since she worked on his automail so many times.
Winry turned her gaze downwards out of shyness and respect for Edward's privacy. "It's not your fault, Ed. It's just that he's feeling a little overwhelmed since you just showed up out of nowhere. Maybe he thinks that you could have come back at any time and chose not to."
"Don't be ridiculous! Of course, I would come back the second that I had the opportunity! I didn't want to leave him in this world alone, but I had no choice." Edward nearly yelled his reply to Winry, but he couldn't help but wonder if Alphonse believed such ludicrous thing.
"Why don't you go talk to him and see what he has to say for himself?" Winry frowned at him a little and folded her arms over her chest. "He's downstaires with 'Baachan right now, and he's willing to give it another chance. I know he spent so much time wishing you were by his side, and I know he won't just want to throw away his only chance so easily. What's the worst that could happen?"
"He could tell me how much he hates me again," Edward's voice still rang with bitterness. "Fine, I'll go downstaires and have another go at it. If he still hates me, then I will leave and he can stay."
"He doesn't hate you!" Winry threated to throw the wrench that she carried with her everywhere at Edward if he didn't stop the nonsense.
"We'll see about that." Edward sighed and left the room without a second glance. Ed watched his feet as he walked down the staires. Ed could hear the muffled voices of Pinako and Alphonse in the kitched, but he couldn't make out what they were saying to one another.
Edward paused to take a breath before he opened the door and walked into the kitchen. Edward looked at Alphonse and their eyes met for the third time that night. Edward broke the gaze as he sat down on the other side of Pinako, and he looked down at the table quietly and with a straight face.
"Well, I'll leave you two boys alone. You can have that tea if you want it, Edward. I didn't even take a sip." Pinako excused herself and shut the door behind her.
"Aru, I'm sorry," Edward pulled the cup of warm tea infront of him and looked down at his reflection instead of towards Al.
"No, I should be the one to apologize to you." Alphonse used a hushed voice, and it sounded as though he was just a timid child.
"No, you were right. You have every reason to hate me." Edward smiled bitterly, then he picked up the cup of tea and drank some down before returning it to the table where he could stare at his reflection once more.
"I have no reason to hate you, Niisan. Don't say such things. I didn't even give you a chance, I couldn't believe that what I was seeing was really you and I was scared." Alphonse's voice quieted to a whisper when he continued, "I didn't want to open my eyes and realize it was just another day-dream."
Edward shook his head, "I still think you were right the first time. It was... It was all my fault that any of this even happened. We could have made it by ourselves, and we did, but I had to fool you into my own selfish desires. You've got your body back now, and you've got your own life without me. You don't have to stagger around with me anymore, and you don't have to pretend that I'm a good brother." Edward's face was still firm and noncomforming to any visible emotion. The only giveaway to what Edward was really feeling was his eyes.
"Enough, Niisan. It was never your fault, because unlike what you liked to believe, I could think for myself. I've always had my independent thoughts and made my own decisions, and I don't appreciate you believing that I was too arrogant and stupid to make my own choices. Even when I was only ten, I knew the risks as well as you did, and I took them with you. It was no more your fault than it was mine." Alphonse's voice was as stern as Edward's grip on his emotions.
Edward looked up at Alphonse. Ed's face was full of defense, "I never thought you were stupid, Aru! If it wasn't for me, it would have never been suggested."
"If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't be here right now either. It's true, I had given up any hope to ever see her face again, but you gave me that hope. That hope made me feel good, and it gave me a reason to live as much as it gave you one. Even though we were both deceived by the same hope, it doesn't mean that either of us were deceived by eachother." Alphonse arose from his seat and walked over to his stunned brother and Al wrapped his arms around Edward's smaller frame and hugged him close. "Just please promise me that you won't think these stupid thoughts anymore, and accept my apology."
Edward sank into the warmth of the embrace and closed his eyes. Edward nodded his head slowly and smiled a little to himself, "Alright, Aru. I promise, but only if you accept my apologies too."
"Okay, Niisan. I accept." Alphonse pressed his face to Edward's damp hair and squeazed the older boy closer.
The brothers stayed like that for many minutes before they left the room with the satisfaction that their hardships were over and that their dept to the world was finally paid off.