It wasn't until I stood in the center of the town, until I stared up at the smooth features, the slippery slopes of cheeks that would never rise or fall with emotions, that would be weathered with the time of ages instead of years, that I realized how alone I truly was. It wasn't until I saw the hair that would never move, until I saw the flat eyes that glittered dully under the sun's rays that I knew...
That I knew.
He didn't breathe on this world anymore, didn't set foot on green, green hills that we used to run when we were small, but I could breathe him all around me. These things, these monuments to him in the middle of cities though... they...
You know what you have to do.
I climbed the pedestal, the flats of my hands running over the stone, over the face that they had created of him, the closest I could remember coming to my brother. The steel of my old body... they told me it separated the touch of him, had kept my sensations cold, alone. Did the granite feel the same? Is this how he felt when touching me all those years? So unyielding, so hard, so far away?
My fingertips ran over the carefully carved hair, that plait that was fine and perfect, and I wanted to feel it slide through my hands, wanted to feel it dancing over my knuckles, wanted to breath in the scent of cheap shampoo and mechanic oil, of long days and summer sweat. They told me and I saw pictures, but...
But...this was all...
I sat down on the ledge, my head hanging forward, ignoring the kids that ran round, shooting imaginary guns from dangerously drawn fingers, ignoring the yelling from the market, ignoring the sun and the heat and the weight of my own grief. How was it that nothing changed? How was it that I never got any better, that my stomach never untangled itself from the triple shank knots? How was it that the emptiness in my heart, in my chest never filled, never stopped aching, never hushed its declaration of pain? How was it that I was not any closer, not any closer to him at all?
They treated him like gold without him even being here, and I marveled at the statue that I sat beneath. My brother. My big brother, and the only thing I had of him were a few memories were hazy and dark, from when we were small.
That, and the coat I wore, that I snuggled down into. The smell of him was long sapped from it, but I could pretend, could image that fibers still clung to the feel of his flesh and blood and sweat and pain...
I touched stone boots, the carving of his name, riding the smooth slope of "E" and "C". I fingered the last words on the little plaque ("for the people") before lying on my back and staring up at the sky. The tail of his stone coat was in my way, shadow spike across my face, and I closed my eyes while reaching up.
I blinked and sat up, hitting my head on the statue with a little groan; there'd be a goose-egg there tomorrow with a headache, I was sure. Brother was still getting me even when he wasn't around.
After I composed myself a little (and stopped groaning while rubbing the bump on my head), I was able to peer at the speaker who had interrupted my moment. The person across from me couldn't have been much older than I was now, or much younger either, caught in the middle age where transition from child to adult was awkward and annoying. His hair was pale brown, spiked, and the grin was wide enough to span his entire face when he smiled. Which, he wasn't, not right now.
"Who're you?" he repeated, and I wondered why he was scowling at me.
"Alphonse," I answered, and though I was cordial and short, I made the most out of being polite and keeping last names secret. "It's nice to meet you."
"You can't lay there." His arms folded over his chest, and I could see the calluses on his hands from here; he must work in the mines that this town was legendary for. Apparently, no one was too young, not even the one's that still didn't have stubble on their chin. It was a shame, but I wasn't here for political and social discussions, now was I? "That's the statue for the guy who saved this town. It's kinda sacred."
Saved this...I didn't remember hearing this story, not about this little backwater village, and I climbed down from the statue with regret; every inch away from it was another mile from my brother, even if this was simply a piece rock, unfeeling, inanimate...
"Tell me about him," I asked softly. "Please? Tell me..."
He seemed to consider it, before he raised one eyebrow in a curious little arch. "So, you're a tourist then?"
Why did this seem familiar, if not so ultimately lonely? "Yessss?" I admitted with trepidation, with hesitation, having a feeling that it would wind me up in a situation.
His arm slung over my shoulders, leading me down an empty street. "Then I have the perfect place for you to stay while here. Perfect hotel that will meet all your basic traveling needs."
The corner of my lips twitched up, and I looked back over my shoulder to peer at my brother's image, over his memory. I... I could sleep here, soundly, knowing that I followed in his footsteps, lay in the same beds, held the same forks and glasses, and spoke with the same people he had protected. Protected, like he had protected me.
I could live in this memory for a little while.
Brother... Oh, Brother. Come home. Come home to the people who love you, the ones you loved enough to save. Your sacrifice was too great in the end; it didn't rectify anything, because I'm just passing time until I see you, until I can touch you, until I can touch you with my flesh, with my fingers that you created.
I'm not living, not now. I'm just killing time.
Come home to me.
"We thought he was a dog of the military, but he wasn't,not by a long shot. He came into town with his brother, some huge guy in a hulking piece of armor, and we brought them to the same hotel that I'm taking you to, now. Cool, eh?"
And there was little else I could do other than smile and let the words swim around me and drag me down into the warm comfort of your soul.