Roy's train ticket sat on the edge of the desk, the writing bold and blackened, a reminder no matter where he looked. It was a Friday, the sky an electric blue already, the color of a child's artistic expedition, the sun in the east, low enough in the sky to create long shadows, but still exploding in the morning, giving beauty in color. The clock stated a time too early to be comfortable and too late to be easy.

After all, by his calculations, he had only an hour to get down to the platform before he turned away, walked away, left it all behind. His best friend, his subordinates, his dreams, his... his room...

But, more importantly, his thoughts. His memories. His demons.

And some demons... some demons, they haunted sleeping dreams as well as reality.

Fingers drifted over the companion that was sharing his bed, the familiar slope of a hip, the stomach that was lacking a customary definition of muscles that lingered under tanned flesh. When he dipped close, he didn't grasp the sharp scent of oil and wires, but of innocence and hopes, not that it mattered, not really, not when the hair was thrown back in a tail, drifting over the pillow and screaming at him to touch it.

Your brother used to do that when he was feeling lazy. Throw it back, and then he would look at me, as if daring me to say something.

And I would, of course.

Leaning forward, he buried his face into the strands that slithered free and snaked down the length of the linen. They didn't hold the same feeling as Edward's, as the one that got away, but if he ignored that, that nagging, that devouring sense of loneliness, then maybe. And everything was a maybe in a world without stability.

The younger Elric rolled over, drawing his hands up to face, fingers still covered in gloves as was Roy's request (I like how it feels, the cloth, the distance, and I don't want your hands to get dirty. But, oh how lies never ceased, because cloth hands could be anyone's, anyone's at all, even metal digits, hm?). One leg pried free of oppressive blankets, and the splash of skin was enough to make the man stop and stare.

The skin is so smooth. So perfect. So unlike his brother.

He is thirteen, inside, outside. What the fuck was I thinking?! There isn't...isn't...

This isn't Edward! This will never be Edward, no matter how many times you defile him, try to make Al into him!

But it wasn't defiling, would never be; this was loving him from afar, living vicariously through someone else. This was okay, was perfectly fine, was...was...

Was wrong. Wrong, and he knew it, and he'd run while he had the decency to do so.

Roy gathered up the last of his items, sliding the ticket into his pocket, before walking out of the room. No kiss. No hug. No words for the dearly departed.

But he had started to wonder if it was Edward or himself that was farther out of reach at the moment.

The train ride was uneventful, boring, and Roy hated the silence that enveloped him so completely; it provided too much time to think, to run over everything, to remind him of where he was going. His hands felt exposed, bare without his gloves, empty like a piece of his existence was missing, and part of him supposed it was.

Terrible tragedy. One after another after another after another...

But the transfer was penance, his chosen retribution. Crimes against humanity, against all of them, against flesh reborn and brothers he hadn't been able to save.

Fingers touched his eye patch, the smooth velvet, and felt the scars that lingered beneath, the dip of broken flesh that tried to mend itself without success.

The window was cool against his cheeks and as they sailed along past a tree, some weeping willow with drooping fingers, he remembered coming to the little nestled village where the Elrics grew older, were dealt their trials, and suffered their respective tragedies. He remembered seeing Al for the first time, really seeing Al in all his flesh and blood and knitted muscle glory, remembered the way those eyes were scanning a pile of books beside him, stacked high, and his mouth unconsciously screwed up in a way that Fullmetal's always used to be.

They tell me my brother and I used to study here, he had said without looking up. I can feel him in the tree. Like it's kept his memory. Like it's blessed by him.

Hidden under that holy tree, Al had finally looked up at him, Al who was Ed in another guise. Al without recognition. It's a pleasure to meet you, sir. How is your eye?

Roy sighed, the memory fading, and his lips were pursed. The youngest Elric was probably waking up now, was feeling the bed linen gone cold, the touches that faded from skin and left it without the pinked marks of passion. He wondered what he would say, if he would know, if he might call Hawkeye back at the off—


One eye widened as his back snapped straight up, his head whipping around. What... what... Was that... Al's voice? But... but...

No. No! Day dreaming. Lack of sleep. Too much coffee. The shot of whiskey he had indulged in when he got on the train this morning. It wasn't Al; Al was back in bed, was asleep, was tainted by his wicked and yearning touch, was—

"Colonel? I know you can hear me."

There was no doubt this time, no hiding anything, so Roy tilted his chin up and tried to look nonchalant. It was difficult when one was talking to themselves in a train car full of people, and even more so when several of those passengers turned to stare. "Yes?"

"I started practicing something, something that seems I can do well." There was a little laugh, something happy, joyous, proud. "I can transmute pieces of my soul into objects. And... you left your coat unattended for a few"

Ahh, and so he had, so he had. Roy smirked, wondering when Al had become so sneaky as to do this. There was something in him that burned, that made him think of turning around, of gathering the boy up and helping him in any quest, anything, even if it was a fool's one. But I'm scared, aren't I? Scared because when Al realizes that he can't do it, that Edward is gone, then I don't think I'll be able to pick him up again.

"I hope you're not mad. I just...I just wanted you to know..." There was an uncomfortable moment, and the coat started to shake, tremble, as if it might unthread itself and pool in a mountain of thread. "That even though I couldn't hold you one last time, I'll keep you close this way! For... for as long as I can. I want to be your willow tree.

"And...and I hope you can forgive me for not being my brother."

Roy's single eye opened wide, his hands clutching in the seat, and when we went to speak with words he wasn't sure might come out, Al was already gone, the coat cold, the thread still knitted together.

Silence reigned, before Roy was able to gain the courage to whisper.

"I'm sorry I wasn't him, too, Alphonse."

Miles away, Alphonse Elric opened his eyes and smiled.