Hope Was a Stone

The first time he put on the coat, he swam in a sea of
fabric that seemed heavy with rumored bloodshed and determination. It wasn't
too big even if he was so young, so small; the person who had worn it before
had been larger than life only by tales alone, and yet the clothing was so still
slight, funny that.

The flamel burned through the cloth and down into his
back like the sun, but it was a scar he would wear until the day they were together
again, hand in hand, eye to eye. He would bear the vice, would do it, would
do whatever it took, because life wasn't worth living alone. And all good stories
had happy endings. They had to. They had to!

Hope was a stone around the lonely young brother's neck,
one that broke his back and ironed out his heart, smoothing the wrinkles of
time and pain.

He had grown since the first day, that day of trepidation
and worry, like someone would catch him playing dress up and punish him. A few
inches had been added to his wiry frame, like his body was catching up with
the time his mind had lost, and he had smiled when someone told him that he
was almost as tall as Edward was before he...he...

I'm defective! he had screamed one night, sobbing
and flailing his arms. I'm defective! I can't even remember my own brother
like I should! He would hate me, hate me for forgetting him! Hate me like I
hate me!

And Winry had been an angel, wrapping him in arms and
wings, and soothing his troubled screams. Shhh, shhh, Al. It's not your fault.
It's not! You'll remember him one day, Al, and then you'll never be apart.

Memories had been bargained, had been traded, and memories
had been what made him up, what created him, what furthered him and made him
real in all those moments when he was sure that he wasn't. They were gilded
gold, treasured and held under the sunlight; no one had the right to steal them,
to rob him of their intimate comfort, of their love when there was nothing left
to hold, to identify him. He wanted them back, wanted them, craved them, and
ached for them.

Fill this empty cup with something. Make me a vessel,
make me true, but don't leave me half-functional! Don't leave me as half a human

He laid the three kittens on the floor in front of him,
his hands trembling, his heart aching. It wasn't fair, wasn't fair that prices
were so high, so beyond the reach of the ultimate arm length. But was it fair
that anyone got something for free? Was it fair that he and his brother had
been raped of everything that had ever been precious to them, be it family,
love, and themselves? What defined fair? What defined innocence and truth, wickedness
and cruelty?

I'm sorry. I'm so sorry! I just... I just can't
live without something! I can't live like this anymore.

Even a lie is better than... than nothing.

The felines mewled in their playful bliss, couldn't stop
their rolling, tumbling even in a sacred realm of silence, in that basement
of tension, of oppression. They were ignorant to the chalk being scratched and
spread over the stone blocks, the round sweeps of circles, of infinity ever
realized. They were blissful and lush in their element of life, pleased as they
tumbled and stalked and chased the tails in front of their noses, leaping and
pouncing and crying for a mother's love. They were perfection of youth while
promises saturated the air, items placed into certain angles and degrees within
the array, sweet offerings of powder and liquid, flesh and blood.

When the youngest Elric pulled away, a thick army of tears
was making war over his cheeks, claiming the smooth, innocent land. His hands
dug into the ground, his head bowed, the hair sliding down, forward, over his
shoulders as he fought back the hiccuping sobs as they wracked his wiry body,
those terrible wails that threatened to choke him from the inside out. He refused
to look at the kittens in front of him, at their tumbling antics, refused to
look at the minerals laid out, refused to look at the circle; instead, he closed
his eyes and fought to think of what his brother would look like now, his noble
brother, the king, the martyr, the victor.

Just three. Please, just three. Something to keep me
warm at night, something to keep me going, something to keep me trying. Just
three sacred memories...

The clap echoed, before warm, stinging hands found the
cold circle. He could feel the heat of the air splitting, felt his tears being
licked away by the waspish arms of the monsters that had held him once, could
hear the terrifying wail of the kittens as they were stolen. His heart lurched
and he choked back the vomit, held back the guilt until there was a moment where
he could curl in the corner, could nurse his grief in silence, in safety.

Papers whirled around him, caught in the force, and he
cracked an eye open, caught sight of the depth of his nightmares, shadows and
gold and wanton purple eyes, before ducking his head down, tucking it back.
No, nonononono! No! Horrors and nightmares upon waking and years caught... trapped...
and his brother...

And then time and space knit itself, and what flew dropped,
leaving an oppression of silence in the wake. Falling back onto his behind,
he scooted to the closest corner, away from that moment of weakness, of that
sacrifice (trade! It was trade, short and simple, nothing else, dammit!), and
drew his knees to his chest. Laying his cheek against the cold stone, bony knees
were pulled up, a fetus without the comfort of a womb.

And with a frightened, terrified breath, he searched his
mind for the answers he sought, for a familiar face, for a reason.