chapter 4.

Munich is much the same as every other god-forsaken city in the world, just in German. Al buys a newspaper outside the station and reads it over lunch in a cafe a few blocks away; Ed tries to read it upside down, but fails miserably and gives up.

"I can't believe people fall for this," Al says with a snort as he turns the page.


"This," Al snaps, tapping the page. "This political party. Used to be the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei—the DAP, German Worker's Party. Changed last year to the NSDAP. It says here that party membership has risen to three thousand three hundred, all because of this guy." He turns the newspaper around to show Ed the black and white photograph of a man standing tall and proud in a dun uniform of some sort. He has a red armband around his left arm.

"Who's he, and what's that on his armband?" Ed asks, pointing with his fork, before adding, "Want some of my lunch?"

"Oh, yes please," Al says, leaning over to suck some spaghetti straight off the implement. "He's their leader; it says here that they voted him the Fuhrer of the party at a board meeting yesterday. That's a swastika on his arm, it's their slogan. He's called Hitler."

"Fuhrer?" Ed asks, raising his eyebrows.

"Yes. Means 'leader'. Why?"

"Oh... back when I was in the military, the head of the army was called the Fuhrer," Ed mumbles, brushing his bangs behind his ear. "So why don't you like these guys? Don't agree with their policies?"

"Partially," Al replies, giving him a long, searching look before returning to the paper. "I really hate their anti-Semitism. Winry's fiancée is Jewish, you know? And my father's technically Jewish, since his mother was, but he's never done anything organised. There's a name for someone born a Jew but who doesn't follow the faith, wish I could remember it..."

"It'll come back to you."

"At about midnight tonight, if it's anything like normal," Al says with a long-suffering sigh. "See here, point four on their twenty-five-point plan—uh, loosely translated, it reads; 'Only members of the nation may be citizens of the State. Only those of German blood, whatever their creed, may be members of the nation. Accordingly, no Jew may be a member of the nation'."

"And people still support them?" Ed asks in disbelief, raising his eyebrows and taking another bite out of his meal before again offering a forkful to Al. "I mean, I think religion is completely pointless and followed by fools alone, but I don't think using force to wipe it out is a good idea. Never works, anyway."

"I was raised Protestant, you know," Al says with a grin, and then sighs. "It's probably the fact that they've said they'll get us out of war reparations that does it. We have to pay six thousand, six hundred million pounds a year to France, Britain and America, while they steal twenty-six per cent of all our exports, so we have to work harder to do it—god knows what'll happen if we don't keep up, though I suspect the French will get extremely obnoxious. At least, more than usual. And unfortunately, anti-Semitism is a long part of European history," Al informs him, wrinkling his nose. "The NSDAP aren't the only party to push it as part of their agenda in Germany alone, just the most successful so far. Mmm, this is good, isn't it?"

"Yeah," Ed says, emptying the rest of the bowl rapidly before taking out his wallet. "Back home there used to be this race of people, in the east, called Ishbalites. They followed a religion the government of my country didn't like, and they were crushed. Completely. It was very nearly genocide."

"You're not Russian, are you?" Al demands, his brows drawing together. "I've never heard of the Ishbalites. Where did they used to live? The Ukraine?"

Ed blinks at him then laughs, shaking his head. "It's much further away than Russia, and not as cold." He counts some Reichsmarks out to pay the bill, and Al is amused to note that not only do his lips move when counting, but that he counts in German. "You think there's any chance of this guy getting into power?"

"No," Al says, shaking his head. "The SPD is far too strong; they'll stay for a while longer."

Ed nods, snapping his fingers to catch the waitress' attention. "Your country," he says. "You should know it best."

Al smiles, but it's a humourless smile. "I wish that were the case. Three thousand three hundred already, remember?"

Ed shrugs, and hands the waitress a bundle of notes when she reaches them. "Danke," he says, with a grin; she blushes and smiles at him, and Al feels a stab of jealousy.

"Let's get going," he says swiftly, folding his newspaper up and pushing his chair back. "Come on, Ed, hurry up—we have to get a cab from here to my family's home yet, you know, and I'd like to arrive before dark."

"Oh—sure," Ed replies, evidently a little startled. "Danke, Fräulein—auf Wiedersehen!"

Al doesn't speak to him until they've flagged a cab down, loaded it with their luggage, and given the driver the directions. They sit side by side in the back seat, Al with his arms crossed over his chest, glaring out the window, Ed hunched up with his coat on his lap. "How far away is it?" he asks, after several long, uncomfortable minutes.

"Four hours, by car," Al replies, squaring his jaw. "I was raised in the countryside."

Ed leans forward and slides the little window connecting the front of the taxi to the back closed, effectively sealing the driver from their conversation. "Are you okay, Al? You've been really tense since we left Berlin."

"Fine," Al snaps, and then sighs. He can't lie to Ed; has never acquired the skill. "I don't want to go home."

"What happened?"

Al hunches his shoulders, and stares out of the window as though he could melt the scenery with his gaze. "Something happened, before I left for England. It's not important; I just don't want to think about it. In itself it wasn't so bad, but—people made a big deal out of it."

Ed watches his face for a long while, not completely convinced, and Al shrugs sharply. "Will you be all right?" Ed asks softly.

"Of course," Al replies, and gives him a bright grin. "You'll be there, right?"

He folds his hand into a fist and knocks his knuckles against Ed's, hoping his companion won't notice the tension in his shoulders that will not go away. When Ed scowls at him, he knows he's been found out; he sets his jaw and glares out of the window, a dull headache blossoming behind his eyes. When Ed sets his left hand over Al's right, rubbing his knuckles gently with a calloused thumb, Al closes his eyes and forces himself to relax. He can do this, as long as Ed's here.

The drive is long and boring. Ed slouches in his seat, attempting to shake the ache out of his legs and behind, and watches the countryside go by. He's no stranger to drawn-out travelling, and it amuses him to note that this Al grew up in countryside very similar to Rizenbourg. Munich has long since faded behind them, and the last town they drove through was over forty-five minutes ago; by Al's restless fidgeting next to him, Ed can tell that they're very close. He links his hands together and stretches his arms out above his head, popping kinks out of his neck and shoulder. He'll be glad to get out.

"Tired?" Al asks, opening his window to let in some fresh air. "We're nearly there. It should be just over the next hill."

"Oh, good," Ed grumbles. "I was beginning to wonder whether we were driving to bloody Poland."

"Close, but not quite," Al replies with a warm, easy smile. "I was thinking we'd stop off at Belgium first."

"Arrgh," Ed says flatly, rubbing at his eyes with the heel of his good hand. Al grins and looks away, out of the window; his smile falters when he sees his family home coming into view as the car crests the hill and heads down.

"We're here," he informs Ed quietly, bundling his luggage up. "You'd better get ready."

"Wait, what?" Ed demands, horrified, peering past Alphonse to stare up and further up at the building. "I thought you said your father ran a trading company?"

"He does," Al replies, emotionless, as he pushes the door open and climbs out. Ed follows, reluctantly.

"That still doesn't explain that, Al," he says, resting one arm on the open car door and running his eyes over the enormous mansion. "You should have warned me you lived in a goddamn mansion—puts the Tuckers' to shame..." He pauses and inwardly flinches, trying not to think of the immense Tucker house, and of the first time he saw it; trying not to think of Shou peering around the door with Nina, and Alexander leaping out at him and slamming him to the ground.

"Mother is the daughter of 'landed German aristocracy'," Al spits, slamming the car door shut, and Ed's attention returns to him, drawn by the unhappiness in his voice. Al ignores him as he pays the driver and gathers his bags, glaring at his house before squaring his shoulders, and Ed, hefting his own bags, falls in step behind him when he begins walking.

Al opts to try the kitchen entrance around the side rather than the main one, but before he can open the door Ed pushes him against the wall, gripping his arm hard. Al hisses an indignant protest, but Ed ignores it in favour of running his eyes over Al's face and posture, studying his body language. For a while he doesn't say anything, just watches Al, and then releases him when Al dissolves and drops his bags, burying his face in Ed's shoulder.

"I don't want to be here," he murmurs into Ed's skin, and Ed shifts to run a slow hand down his back. "I shouldn't be here. I shouldn't have made you come here, either. I'm sorry."

"Tell me what happened," Ed whispers soothingly, but Al shakes his head. There's a wet patch spreading over his shoulder, and Ed frowns as he rubs his cheek against Al's hair. "Come on, Al, you can tell me. I'm not going to reject you, or anything."

"I can't," Al replies, voice choked. "I promised I wouldn't."

Ed scowls at the wall behind Al's back, mind busy processing that statement, and then tilts his head to press a light kiss against Al's cheek. It's not fair, he thinks, that this Al, when upset, should act exactly the way his brother might do, making his protective older-brother nature rise while at the same time the part of him that belongs to this Al does, too. It shouldn't surprise him that such a part exists, he thinks, but it does; he kisses Al again, and wonders at it. He's been telling himself that he loves this Al for other reasons than that he is another version of his brother, and he supposes that this feeling proves that to be true. He smiles, and can't quite stop himself.

Al draws in a hitched breath, and pulls away, rubbing at his eyes. "I'm sorry about that," he whispers, and picks up his bags again. "It's stupid of me, I know—but I'm going to have to face them eventually, right? And it should be sooner, rather than later."

"Al," Ed says with a frown, and Al turns and smiles at him. "Are you sure—?"

"Yes, I'm sure. Come on," Al replies, pushing the kitchen door open with one hand, then pausing to shift his bag. "We'll be in the west wing. We'll need to take separate bedrooms, of course, but I'll try to ensure they're close together."

The kitchen is empty, and has been for some time—the washing up is drying on a rack by the sink, but the surfaces have been cleaned and everything aside from the washing up has been put away. Al ghosts his way through it absently, and Ed falls into step behind him. It's eerie, this empty place, and he doesn't like it. Surely there should be people here? He listens intently but can't hear anything, no conversations, no music, no nothing. Al doesn't seem overly worried, so he takes his cue from that; it's hard, though, when they emerge from the kitchen into the grand entrance hall, and Al pauses in front of a magnificent sweeping staircase, tilting his head and frowning. "Al?" he asks, and winces at the echo. Al puts a finger to his lips and begins climbing the stairs, Ed trailing behind him; but their efforts are in vain, as they are halted less than halfway up by a loud, familiar voice calling, "Alphonse!"

Al hesitates, cringing, so abruptly that Ed nearly runs into his back. Ed snakes his head, trying to spot the owner of the voice; there are quick footsteps on the landing above them, and she comes into view. Ed can only stare at her—he'd never have been able to imagine Lieutenant Hawkeye in a dress before, but here she is, one gloved hand resting on the banister.

"Mother," Al says, through gritted teeth. His mother—not Riza Hawkeye, Ed reminds himself, but Elizabeth Havoc—doesn't reply, merely fixing him a glare Ed's seen his own world's version use on Mustang more than once before. It's a glare tinged with a sort of fond exasperation, but Elizabeth gives it a motherly spin that Hawkeye never did.

"I was not aware you had been invited," Elizabeth informs him, frowning. "I have already given your old room to another guest."

"It's fine," Al replies quickly. "I don't mind taking one of the spares."

"And you bought a friend?" she inquires, eyes roaming over Ed.

"This is Edward Elric, mother. I met him at Cambridge. Where is everyone?" Al climbs the rest of the staircase to stand beside her as he speaks, and Ed follows, watching Elizabeth intently. He's still puzzling over the line about Alphonse's invitation being a surprise, and part of him is dying to know what bought this tension between the two of them about.

"Your father and several of his old army acquaintances have gone down to the village, although I do not know the reason," she says, wrinkling her nose. "Your sister is being fitted for her wedding dress. She will be glad to see you again, Alphonse." Her tone implied that it was a good thing someone was. "Mr Elric, it is good to meet you. Ross! [Show our guests to the spare rooms, please.]"

Ed started as a door behind Elizabeth opened—from what he could see of the room beyond, it appeared to be a parlour room or something like that—and Maria Ross came through, closing it behind her. She wore a plain black dress, and her hair was longer, but it was still Ross; Ed had a hard time keeping himself from gawking at her as she curtsied to them both, and fished in a pouch at her belt for a large key ring. Without a word she led them away, and Ed paused only once to look over his shoulder. Elizabeth didn't even watch them go, simply heading into the room Ross had left.

He thought about that, as he followed Al and Ross' double through several corridors. That hadn't been the friendliest of greetings, and from the way Al had addressed her, the feeling was mutual. When they come to a stop in the middle of the corridor, and Ross unlocks one door then another opposite it before speaking with Alphonse in low, hushed German, handing him the keys, Ed made a note to find out more.

He follows Al into his room first, sprawling over the edge of the bed as his boyfriend unpacks his belongings from their suitcase. "Sorry about that," Al says mildly, as he shakes out some underwear before folding it again and putting it in the chest of drawers. "I think you'll find most of my family will be like mother, if not worse. My sister Winry is the sole exception, and you'll probably find she'll still be quite cold to you."

"What did you do?" Ed asks, peeling off his coat.

Al turns and smiles at him. "Nothing much," he says, closing the suitcase and dumping it on the floor by Ed's feet. "There. The only things left in there are yours. You should go unpack—you're staying just across the hall."

"Thanks," Ed replies, but doesn't leave, instead resting a booted foot on top of the suitcase. "Come here," he says, patting the space beside him on the bedcovers with his good hand. Al hesitates for a second before setting himself down ungracefully, leaning into his shoulder and giving a long, explosive sigh.

Ed doesn't say anything, lifting a hand and scratching the back of Al's neck gently. Al sighs again and tilts his head to give Ed further access, moaning appreciation as Ed stops scratching and begins rubbing, pressing at tense spots and coaxing his muscles into relaxing. "Tell me," Ed says evenly, "what happened."

Al makes a little noise of protest, but doesn't move away from the soothing touch. "I'd really rather not, Ed," he murmurs. "It's a secret, like you won't tell me where you come from, or how exactly you lost your limbs, or even your brother's name—-"

"That's because you wouldn't believe me if I told you," Ed informs him casually, pressing at a particularly stiff spot until he undoes the knot with an almost-audible snap of release. Al exhales, slowly.

"Try me," he challenges, opening his eyes slowly. "You'd be surprised what I'm willing to believe about you."

Ed breaths out, still rubbing Al's neck absently. "Equivalent trade, right?" he says, mouth quirking into a grin. "In exchange for you telling me your secret, I tell you mine?"

"Something like that, yes," Al replies, shifting to draw Ed's fingers to a particularly troublesome spot.

"Very well," and the massage stops as Ed lowers his hand, clasping it to the other and putting them both in his lap. "I was born in a place called Rizenbourg. Ever heard of it?"

"No. It sounds German, though."

"Maybe it does," Ed agrees, mouth quirking. "It was a little hamlet in the east of a country called Amestris. There were a few houses, scattered far and wide over the mountainside. Most of them were farming families—my own and our neighbour's were the sole exception."

Al blinks at him, the corners of his mouth turned downwards. "I've never heard of a place called Amestris," he says flatly. "Ed, please don't make fun of me."

Ed ignores him. "My father walked out on us shortly after my younger brother was born, leaving our mother alone to raise us both. You know that much already, right? Good. When I was ten—my brother was a year younger than me, his name was Alphonse, too—when I was ten, she—she got sick. Really badly sick. We couldn't afford the medicine she needed, and a few months later, she—she died."

"Oh," Al says softly, looking down at his lap.

"This is the bit where you're going to stop believing me," Ed announces, carefully not looking at him. "Where I came from, there was this branch of science that was—that was something that doesn't exist anymore. It was called alchemy, and it operated on the principle of equivalent trade—for example, using a specifically designed transmutation circle, or an array, it was possible to change the shape of something. For example—" he pauses, trying to think of an example, then smiles as one comes to him—"my brother once broke somebody else's radio. Using an alchemical array, he repaired it perfectly. At the time, he explained the process of equivalent trade by saying—what was it... 'You can only create something of a certain mass from something with the same mass'. He couldn't have turned that radio into a larger radio, a piece of paper, or a tree."

"That's nonsense," Al informs him, flatly. "If you're going to pry into my private life, offering up a part of your own in exchange, then at least have the courtesy to be honest, Edward. What really happened? How did you lose your limbs?"

Ed colours angrily. "I thought you said you'd believe a lot about me?"

"Not when it's completely false," Al retorts, just as sullenly.

"All right then," Ed snaps. "I lost my arm when a wild werewolf bit it off. My leg was severed in a tragic accident involving a crocodile and an Egyptian criminal underworld boss. That more plausible than the story I was telling you?"

"In many respects, yes, it is!" Al snarls, voice rising with each word. "For God's sake, Ed, what is it with you and honesty? Russell was probably right when he told me not to trust you, you were a rotten liar!"

"So you'd believe Russell Tringham over me? Nice, Al. Great." Ed pushes himself to his feet, and grabs the suitcase. "I think I'll go unpack," he says, making a visible effort to control his voice. Al stands up, too, muscles tense. "Because if I stay here, I'll do something I'll regret. Same for you. Good night, Alphonse."

Al watches him go, brows drawn together, and scowls. Part of him wants to call Ed back and apologise to him, but most of him is insulted by Ed's attempting to pass off such an obvious lie as truth. He wanders over to the window, and leans against the sill, looking down over the lake that the house backs onto. There are a group of children from the village, dirty from some unidentifiable chore, scuttling over its banks armed with makeshift fishing rods and sharpened poles; the glass of the window is insufficient to drown out their loud shrieks of triumph or disappointment. For a moment he thinks of a time when he was one of those children, scrabbling barefoot over dry rocks in the midst of an unusually hot summer, and then shudders and turns away.

There's a hesitant knock on his door, and he feels a smirk grow on his face. "Come in, Ed," he says, looking back out of the window. When he hears the door close, he adds, "I'll forgive you if you'll just tell me the truth, Ed—"

"'Ed' being the blond I just saw storm out of here a few minutes ago?" his sister asks, making herself comfortable on the edge of the bed, where Al had been sitting a few moments ago. Al jerks around to look at her, eyes wide, and she smiles. "Come here, Al," Winry says, holding out her arms, and he goes willingly, burrowing his face in his sister's shoulder. Winry is older than him by six years, but she's fairly petite, and fits easily in his arms. "I've missed you," she whispers. "I didn't think—I didn't think you were actually going to come back, I nearly died when Mother said she'd seen you trying to creep up the main staircase—-"

"I'm sorry," he whispers. "I didn't want to come back, but you asked, and—"

"Al," she says, pulling him away and setting her hands on his cheeks, forcing him to look at her. Her smile fades, and she looks uncertain as she says, "There's—something you should know..."

"What is it, Win?" Al asks, and she can't meet his eyes.

"David's back," she tells him, and Al's shoulders slump.

"Since when?"

"About three years ago. He just wandered back into the village, and—and got his old job back, and married Camilla, and everybody seems to have forgotten what he did to you! They all talk about—you—as though you were the one in the wrong! That's—-"

"Forget it," Al interrupts, voice flat. "I don't want to talk about that bastard. Please, Winry?"

She looks as though she wants to argue, but quiets herself by supreme force of will. "All right," she says softly. "Tell me how you're been. It's been at least six years since I last saw you, you know."

"I know," Al says quietly. "I'm sorry."

"Al... forgive me if this seems rude, but I have to know," she whispers, picking her way through the sentence as if it were a minefield. "Is Ed... the one I just saw a glimpse of... is he your-?" She can't finish the sentence; her cheeks are flushed and she won't meet his eyes.

"Yes," Al answers after a moment, taking pity on her. "I'm sleeping with him. I'd prefer it if you didn't let anyone know, Win. Mother and Father will pick it up, I'm sure, but I'm hoping nobody else will. It'll be hard enough dealing with Father."

"That might be easier than you think," she tells him earnestly. "I know that the two of you haven't spoken since you left, but he really does regret what he said to you that day, and it didn't take much persuading on Mother's part for him to agree to send you that monthly payment, much less the money you needed for University. He'll be glad to see you, you know."

Al frowns, and looks unconvinced. Winry just smiles and pinches his cheeks, stretching them out. "Ow!" he exclaims, and she laughs, releasing them.

"I missed you," she says, ruffling his hair. "With you gone, I was the baby of the family again—how unfair was that?" Her expression softens, and she leans forward, bumping their foreheads together. "You've changed," she whispers. "When did my little brother grow up, hmm?"

"When he left for England with nothing but the clothes on his back," Al replies, with no hint of a smile. She frowns, and traces a line around his eye with her thumb. "At least I could already speak English, thanks to David—wait..."

Winry blinks at him, her eyes wide and blue. "What?"

"Why are you talking to me in English?" Al asks, cautiously. "Mother did, too. What's going on?"

"Oh, that," and she visibly relaxes. "Judging from your latest letters, your German is slipping something awful. I don't know about mother, but I've been speaking English practically non-stop for the last few weeks—several of Father's old American Army acquaintances are here for the wedding, you know, and they speak hardly any German. It's not hard for me to talk in English any more."

"Ah." Alphonse pauses, and runs a hand through his hair. "So, tell me about Cain?"

By Winry's warm smile, that was exactly the right question to ask. "I warn you," she says with a sweet grin that Al returns—he's always glad to see his sister happy—"Once I start, I can seldom stop myself."

"I'll interrupt if I think you're getting too sappy," Al assures her. He doesn't, though, watching his sister and her enthusiasm. She's always been his favourite family member; he would say that their parents ignored him, entirely, but they did lead very busy lives. Winry—six years older, extremely sharp and thoroughly bored with the menial tasks it had been judged by their governess appropriate for women of his sister's stature to know—had practically adopted him from the moment he could stand on his own two legs without falling over. If he were to calculate the amount of things he'd learned from the adults of his family compared to the amount of things Winry had taught him, the answer would come up slanted very definitively in her favour.

She'd been the only one to stand with him after David, he remembers, and can't help but wonder about that.