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cryogenia

A History of Violence

chapter 2.

He wakes again to unusual motion; the mattress beneath him makes a strange squealing
sound beneath him, like a rat trapped beneath cotton. There is someone on his
ri—no, left side, leaning... He tenses and coils his legs beneath him,
gets ready to whip to the right if he has to; he'd be on his arm but his leg
could still crush someone's kneecap. Nobody fucks with him first thing in the
morning, that's job one.

"What the fuck do you want?" He growls, trying to sound
like he isn't about to rip the guy's balls off. Succeeds in that, at least—
his words all come out thick, slurred together; only sounds tired.

"...brother?"

Al. Right.

Al.

He turns his head and the image resolves itself, his perfect
little brother all mussed and lopsided from sleep. His left cheek has an ugly
mark where some fabric or flesh pressed against it (maybe his hand? Did he
remember Al sleeping on his hand, was that it?
). His brother is sitting
up kind of precariously...it looks like any minute he's going to topple over
and flop right back where he came from.

Ed wants to let him. Wants to push him to help him along.
Hell, just wants to reach out and touch him. His skin is so soft—so
detailed—tiny, tiny little pores and intricate smile-lines on his face; the
barest hint of coarser hair to grow in. He'd never thought Alphonse would grow
up to be rugged but there is a slight shadow along the curve of his chin. Give
it a couple hours, Alphonse might start to look like a man.

I made this. He realizes giddily for the first
time, for the five millionth time. I made my goddamn baby brother.

He had thought maybe, that first time he'd taken a look
at his book—at his real book, leather and pages—that it was what
this would be like. That pride, that warmth at ownership; just to hold in your
hands something you made. Acting like a fucking girl, he had guessed
at the time, but his book really had been the closest he had been to creation...and
this...this is that, but a thousand times over.

"Are you awake?" A stray sprig of hair flops diagonally
across his brother's smooth forehead, which is no longer quite so smooth—
there's a furrow there that begs to be pressed flat. Weird to think that he
was weaving those muscles. Could he make that ridge relax? He can picture undoing
that flesh. He can also picture just pressing it out with his thumb.

Dammit, he wants to touch! "Morning, Al." He says
instead, still marveling.

"...morning." His brother says, colors a little. Ed is
immediately humbled, looks away. He doesn't want this to be weird. He's
probably made it weird enough already.

He rolls onto his side (slowly, not violently) and cranes
his head to peer at the solitary window. It is narrow and high near the ceiling,
like the ones in the mess hall; maybe that's why he keeps thinking there should
bars over everything.

Night fades into a low, blue light from everywhere at
once. It is impossible to tell what hour, or what part of the day, they are
passing through.

"How long was I out?"

Al shrugs, a sheepish twitch of muscle that has Ed's entire
attention.

"I don't know, I just got up again myself."

"Again?!" For a moment, he is terrified that he woke him.
The pipes were loud, the bathroom echoed; he would feel like shit if he was
the reason his brother was up so early—or late. Whichever.

"I got up sometime around dawn and got breakfast—you
were out cold. You want something? I brought back some biscuits, there's apples;
didn't get any sausage cause we don't have a good place to keep it, sorry..."

Ed waves his human hand feebly and brings it up to rub
at his temples. Al warbles in surprise but dutifully goes silent. Just leans
there, quiet and watchful.

"Are you sure you don't want anything?"

"Maybe in a bit." Distantly, he considers that his stomach
probably could use something in it, but right now he's weighed down by overwhelming
tired. Biscuits, bread, any of that would sit on his stomach like a brick.
Maybe an apple. At some point.

"I'm kind of dragging, I think." He admits eventually,
when he realizes that Al is just going to keep staring until he says something.
He forgets that Al might actually give a shit if he's tired or hungry or whatever.
It's vaguely annoying.

"It might be the transmutation." His brother suggests,
and Ed realizes at once at yes, yes indeed that is this feeling, fuck. Fucking
pathetic. It was all in one shot, but still a lot of alchemy—he can compare
that qualitatively, compared to the days when he'd performed minor miracles
on an hourly basis—but still, fuck, it felt like he should be in better
shape than this.

"Yeah, probably." He says, resolves to work on that. Is
thrilled at the thought that he can.

Al reaches over and squeezes his arm, a casual touch that
confuses. Ed stares down and wonders what his brother is looking for; there
aren't any scars on his elbow. Last night his sibling had been simply obsessed;
it was weird and kind of pissy. Everybody wanted to stare at his fucking back.
They couldn't just let a thing go.

His brother presses harder, and he's most assuredly not
looking for old wounds any more—the look on his face is sheer adoration, which
still makes Ed squirmy and paranoid.

"Brother...thank you. For what you did. For giving
me my memories back."

Big, adoring eyes, muzzy with sleep but shining as hard
as they can, and—fuck. Just, fuck. Ed swallows hard and hangs on. He cried
enough last night, like a fucking baby, he will not cry again this morning,
tears leave marks and they're fucking pussy and he will not do it for fuck's
sake
.

"Don't mention it." He says, and his chest burns but his
eyes don't, and he counts that as a victory.

And now it is his brother's turn to look and Ed relinquishes
himself willingly; he might be out of practice but he hasn't forgotten Equivalency.
Al's eyes skate across the cleft of his collarbone, darken at the scars on his
front; he twists a little to hide the knife mark on his side that he's pretty
sure his brother hasn't noticed yet, draws attention to the automail and well,
at least THAT gets no reaction. Him and Winry, the only two who don't get weird
at it...Winry. She should know, he realizes. She should be the first to see.
After he squares with his parole officer, he's sending Al straight to Winry.

His brother looks lower and wrinkles his nose. Ed follows
his gaze, sees only his towel, still tangled around him.

"Ew, you used the hotel towels?" His brother asks
incredulously, holding the icky thing between his thumb and forefinger.

"Sorry." Edward apologizes, eyes averted. "I didn't know
I wasn't supposed to."

Al gives him another, less firm squeeze.

"You're not 'not supposed to' anything, brother."
He says, bobbing his head weirdly this way and that. "I just have nicer ones,
that's all."

"Okay..." Edward says, has absolutely no idea what the
fuck his sibling is talking about. A towel's a towel.

"You could probably use another a go at it anyways." Al
says gently, fingering the cuff of Ed's grungy pants. "Not much point to a shower
if you get right back into these."

Okay, the kid does have a point there. "Not like I have
any others." He says, in his defense. "Sikes's got my other pair."

Al blinks, a blank look spread across his lovely face.

"Sikes. Parole board gal. She keeps my stuff locked down."
Ed clarifies, and the look that gets him is enough to make him want to
stop looking again. "Fuck, it's just what they do. She's like a psycho nanny.
Thinks if I get too many toys I'll run off."

"...not like it stopped you." His brother pointed out.

"Well, yeah. She sent me out here with Harp, he's
not exactly the sharpest crayon in the box. Sleeps too hard. I got up early
and walked right out."

Al arches a skeptical eyebrow. Ed feels strangely put
upon.

"I told him to go on without me!" He says, in his defense.

"And you seriously think he went back to Central, cause
you left him a note!?"

"Doesn't matter if he did or not. I have to go to Central
and talk to Sikes, either way." He wasn't looking forward to THAT little conversation-probably-ass-chewing,
but Al didn't have to know about that.

Again, Al. He pauses, belatedly connects one and
one to get two.

"I don't think you can come with me. She can't know about
you, Al. Nobody can."

Al's reaction is, predictably, confusion. The kid had
his memories back, but fuck, he's always been so goddamn awful naïve. Sikes
is such a balls-on bitch, he's already in dutch for ditching the rube. He shows
up with a kid, she's gonna ask where he got him from.

Assuming she doesn't just bust his ass for pissing her
off to begin with.

"Why not?! Brother, this proves that you're innocent-"

"You think they're going to believe me?! Your parents
reported you missing."

"They dropped the charges!"

"That doesn't change the fact that I have you!"

Al sticks his chin out. He looks remarkably like Winry,
bitching at him about those stupid newsletters.

"Brother, that doesn't make any sense at all. I can talk
to my parents, we can have them explain things to your parole officer, it's
all just one big misunderstandi—"

Dammit, he wasn't fucking listening!

"Al, don't be a damned IDIOT!"

His brother froze in mid-syllable, started scowling.

"Brother!"

"What?!"

"That was harsh!"

Jeez. Fucking indignant pout. He had no idea what the
hell he was even talking about. Dammit, he knew this was an awful idea,
Al was so much safer not knowing, didn't he get it, he was just trying
to keep him—

"Care to explain, or are you just going keep snapping
at me?"

Ed takes a deep breath. Rubs at his temples again. Feels
a surge of random, undirected anger at the absurdity, the absolute stupidity
of it all.

Five minutes back together and we're already fighting.
This is fucking retarded.

"Al, listen." He begins.

"I AM." His brother says, short and clipped.

"You don't—look, you don't know these people. This woman.
She's a real ball-breaker, okay, and she doesn't really want me out...if she
finds out I did anything, my ass is grass. I have to leap when she says frog,
alright?"

He takes another deep breath.

"Think about it, Al: an orphan goes missing. Comes back
saying he met this guy—this crazed human transmutation expert, this murderer
who has no qualms about fucking with people—and he just happened to
get his memories back, and he just happens to be the brother the Fullmetal Alchemist
was trying to transmute..."

Alphonse's mouth rounds slowly into one perfect 'o' of
horror.

"...they'll think you did something to me. To make me
think I'm your brother."

Ed closes his eyes slowly, glad that at least his brother
is listening, dammit. Al isn't STUPID, he's one of the smartest kids
Ed's ever known, if he'd just take the rose-colored glasses off.

Al sags a bit, and a sharp knife of sympathy stabs its
way through Ed's chest. He's forgetting, he supposes, that Alphonse's world
until yesterday was filled with little girls and puppies and (knowing Al) kittens.
A part of him still feels massively guilty about that.

"That's just—I mean—I am me, aren't I? No, that's
stupid, I trust you, brother—you gave me back my life again, and everything
fits...really, I don't see why we can't work something out! There's plenty
of records about how I have—well, had—amnesia, and I've got all this alchemical
knowledge that nobody could ever explain."

Ed shakes his head.

"The problem's further back than that, Al."

"Huh?"

"How many pictures are there of you in armor?"

"What?"

"The official line is that I killed you trying to resurrect
Mom, or in sicko experiment, or something like that, when I was young—then
I killed thousands more to for the chance to bring you back. On the books, you've
been dead since you were eleven."

"Eleven?"

"You did pass the first part of the State Exam."

"Oh. Right."

"After that...there isn't anything. We made sure of that,
remember?"

Al's arms fold up against his body, like a dog curling
its tail between its legs.

"We don't have any proof, do we? That I was even alive."

"No, not really. Winry and Gramma, maybe, but they're
not like authority figures."

"And we wouldn't want to drag them into this. Oh, brother..."

He looks so thwarted that it gives Ed pause, makes him
feel bad for his earlier cynicism. Really, he thinks, he's being entirely unfair.

If Alphonse Elric is wearing rose-colored glasses, it's
because he put them there.


He excuses himself from the rest of the conversation because it is going nowhere
fast—Al seems to want to exhaust all the options, and Ed already knows that
there are none. His brother pouts at his "attitude" until Ed says he
is hungry; Alphonse gets up almost immediately and returns with an apple. Chews
that, swallows; it is one of the crispest fruits he has had in years. The correctional
system all functions on government subsidy and other sorts of leftovers, and
apples are always mealy by the time they get to him.

"This is so fucking good." He can't resist commenting,
and Alphonse chuckles, gives him a tiny, off-kilter smile.

"Glad you like it. You want a biscuit?"

"I guess." He concedes, contemplates life after the end
of the succulent fruit. He really doesn't feel like anything heavy, but the
fruit is just enough to remind him that yes, he hasn't eaten anything substantial
since sometime before he skipped out on Harp, and his stomach is angry and ready
to claw its way out through his middle. He placates it with another mouthful
of apple, savors the slide of cool juice down his throat. It tastes so. Fucking.
Good.

"Ew, brother!" Alphonse admonishes suddenly. "You're not
supposed to eat the apple core!"

"Huh?" Says Ed, confused.

"The seeds aren't good for you."

"...okay, I'll spit out the seeds."

His brother leans forward and snatches the half-eaten
core instead; Ed gapes hopelessly after it, cranes his mouth mindlessly toward
the ghost of his lunch.

"Hey!"

"If you like it that much, I'll just get you another one.
Jeez!"

Al jumps up and fetches him a second apple, comes bounding
back like a damned Labrador retriever. He practically wags his tail when Ed
sinks his teeth in. Ed snorts and works on demolishing his apple, tries not
to let the staring get to him. If Al wants to be weird and watch him eat, whatever.
Just another of the millions of things not to care about right now, fuck, he's
sitting in a comfortable bed in a quiet little room, they've got a fucking bathtub
right around the corner, everything else can sort itself out later.

Al presses a biscuit on him as soon as he's gnawed his
new apple down to the quick; he tries to refuse but Al takes it entirely the
wrong way. His face crumples and he inexplicably starts to apologize.

"I'm sorry I couldn't get anything better. I can go back
and see if they still have some cinnamon rolls. I should have got one of each...I
just didn't think."

"...Al, what the hell are you talking about?"

"That you don't like biscuits?"

"Hell no!" Actually, Ed has no opinion either way, but
he'll be damned if he'll sit back and let his brother (precious, beautiful
brother
) run himself into the ground over them.

"I like biscuits just fine; I'm just not hungry anymore."
He offers a half-truth. He's starting to feel queasy again, and a nice, warm
bath sounds more appealing than bread.

His brother gives him a skeptical look but says nothing;
deposits the apple core in the trash and folds the biscuit back into the greasy
wrapper that birthed it. He places it on the edge of the dilapidated night stand.

"Well, it'll be here when you're ready for it, okay?"

"...okay." Ed says. He is mildly irked at not being believed,
but lets it go. This is his brother. He's just trying to be nice.

"I think I'm gonna take a bath now." He announces, wants
suddenly just to escape to his white porcelain sanctuary. "You mind?"

"No, of course not! Here, I'll get you a towel." And AGAIN
with the fetching. It is beginning to get on Ed's nerves. His brother is too
eager to please by half; it makes him uncomfortable.

"Do you need soap?"

"No, their soap works just fine." Says Ed, tugs open the
door. He can practically feel the warm water around him already, fuck, that's
going to be so nice.

"Wait!"

Dammit, what NOW? He wonders, grits his teeth.

"Brother...after you get out, we should probably start
figuring out what we're going to do."

"About what?"

"Everything." His brother runs a hand through his hair.
"Don't think I've forgotten just because you changed the subject. What do we
do next?"

"We go back to Central." Ed says, annoyed. "I told you,
my parole lady's there."

"And where do we go after that? How do we support ourselves?
I don't have much money left, we could just about make it there and then we're
out. What do we do then?"

Ed swallows, closes his eyes. The answer is in his very
bones.

"Winry." He says immediately. "She'll want to see you."

Al's eyes light up at the very idea, and his smile is
almost as beautiful as the promise of cleanliness.

"She's in Central?"

"Yeah. Has a shop now. Does pretty good business, I guess."

"What about Gramma?"

"...I don't know." He says, chooses his words carefully.
The last time he heard from Winry, shortly before he was suddenly released,
she was going home to be with the old woman. "But we can crash at Winry's place,
at least."

"That's great." Al says. "I can't wait to see her. But
brother...what are you going to do about your parole officer?"

"What do you mean, what am I gonna do?"

"If you don't want me to come forward—and I agree with
you, I can't yet—how are you going to explain what you were doing out here?
You broke into our house."

Ed shrugs them off and disappears through the bathroom
door.

"Dunno. I hadn't thought that far ahead."


He finds a set of Alphonse's clothes laid out on the bed
when he steps out of the bathroom; a short, beautifully scripted note explains
that Al is settling their bill. He puts them on and is momentarily irked to
find the sleeves and pants are too long. A single clap puts an end to that,
and he marvels at the way the excess cloth spirals away in ribbons. The shirt
and pants still gape, but he isn't exactly sure how to modify those dimensions
without dissecting the entire outfit, and he can't quite picture how to put
it back together.

Out of practice. He thinks with a scowl, though
he recognizes it's not entirely his fault. Five seconds with a book about clothing
patterns and he'll be right as rain.

Hopefully.

He meets up with his brother in the lobby and they step
out of the place together, Al with suitcase in hand. He misses the hotel even
before they make it five steps away; something about the street is too bright.
Overly colorful. He squints his eyes and tries to ascertain the position of
the sun among the painfully white clouds; it is low and already to the west.
Almost six 'o clock, if he's any sort of judge.

They have slept most of the day.

"We don't have much time." Al says, frowning. He has noticed
the same thing. "The overnight trains all leave by six."

"Do you think we can make it?" He doesn't want to rough
it if they don't have to, for Al's sake, but his brother is right about their
financial situation.

Al sucks on his lower lip.

"Maybe, if we run." He says doubtfully. "The station's
about a mile, I think."

Ed grins. "Then, we run. Might as well try."

They break out into a matched lope, Ed lingering just
a little behind to follow his brother's lead through the narrow maze of streets.
Al's gait is unsteady; he is leaning hard to the right, and his breath is coming
hard through his mouth.

Ed pulls up to his right side and asks what is wrong.

"You alright?" He says, notes the way his sibling is holding
his right arm out stiff, as if dead. "You want me to take your suitcase?"

"Yeah." Pants his brother, in short, staccato bursts.
"I'd...appreciate...it."

Ed reaches for the handle with his left and swings it
up over his shoulder, seats the burden carefully and continues to run. Al stares
and stumbles because of it.

"Doesn't that...hurt?" He gasps.

"Not really." Ed replies.

"Damn!" His sibling swears, and there is not another word
out of him until they arrive at the station.

They make it to the ticket counter with nearly twenty
minutes to spare; Alphonse sinks to a crouch and sucks air for at least five
of them. Ed himself is winded and hates his body for it, but he is not incapacitated.
Frankly, it worries him.

"Are you sure you're alright?" He asks in a low voice.
"There's not anything wrong with you, is there?"

His brother glowers at him balefully.

"Not all of us...are racehorses, you know..." He hisses.

"I slowed down for you!" Ed protests.

"Could have...fooled me! Damn!"

"Just get the tickets, okay?" Ed says, runs a hand through
his rakish mop of hair. "Or give me the money so I can do it. I don't want to
miss the train."

"We're not gonna...miss the train?" Al grumbles, but fishes
a small money clip out of his pocket anyways.

To their left, a station attendant gives him a sharp,
pointed look. Leans over and whispers to his companion—who begins walking
toward a nearby phone box. Shit. Harp must have put some kind of a watch
out for him.

Or the police did. He fucking knew they shouldn't have
trusted those people. He shifts a few feet to the left, testing. The gawking
attendant's eyes follow his ass like they're glued to it.

Him, then. Right. If they were lucky, they hadn't noticed
Al.

Ed bends down and pretends that he's working on a particularly
troublesome shoelace knot, uses it as cover to whisper to his brother.

"...on second thought, maybe we should buy our own tickets."

"Huh?"

"Go up to the counter and ask for a ticket to Central
—just ONE. I'll meet you in the restroom over there."

"What?!"

"Just do it!" He hisses.

He leaves his bewildered brother in the queue and fakes
as if he's heading further down the block; doubles around a general store and
comes back to the station from the back. He slips into the restroom next to
the platform entrance, makes a beeline for one of the stalls. He waits there
until he hears a tentative knock against the wall, the sound of a suitcase bumping
along the cobblestone floor.

"Brother?"

"Good. Got your ticket?"

"Yes, but-"

"Great. Let me see."

Al procures it and Ed notes the carriage number, commits
Number Five to memory. He claps his hands together, presses the tips of his
fingers to the paper. The ink particles unhook from the stub and reapply themselves
in new order.

"This is Winry's address, in case we get separated. I
put it on the stub; when they tear the ticket you should get that part back."

Al's eyes widen.

"'In case we get separated?!' Brother, what's going on!"

"Look, the less people see us together, the better. That's
all. You got your ticket, I get my ticket. Separately. You get on first, okay?"

"They already saw us together out front! I don't see why
we can't board together—"

"Just trust me, okay?" He pleads. "Please?"

"...alright." Al says reluctantly. "But I don't have to
LIKE it. Once we get on, I'm coming to find you."

"Al!"

"Or I'm not getting on at all. Come on, this is ridiculous!
I-"

A train whistle screams through the walls, and their heated
words are lost in its.

"...we have don't have time for this." Ed says when the
blast finally subsides, and Al has no choice but to agree. "Here, gimme cash,
I have to go get my ticket now."

"This is utterly asinine." His brother mutters, but he
does what he is told. He has to, which is just what Ed wants. Ed hangs back
until his brother has already made it up to the platform before he slinks back
around the corner, sweating bullets the entire time. Any second now, Harp is
going to show up and bitch at him. Any second now, the squad cars will start
rolling in.

Al is on the train. That's all that matters. He
tells himself. Al is a bright boy, he can get himself to Winry if they take
him now.

He somehow makes it to the ticket booth without having
a heart attack; is pleasantly surprised to find the queue is deserted. The lady
at the counter is pleasant in a way that gets under his skin.

"Where to, sir?" She simpers, in that insincere salesperson
sort of way.

"5:58 for Central-Central." He says in the lingo of train
stations, plunked the wad of bills down on the counter. Fuck, he was sweating
circles through Al's wimpy shirt. "This should be exact. Can I request a car?"

"We have seating available in carriages three, five, seven,
and eight."

Anything but five. He thinks, says "Eight." instead.

"Understood, sir. Will you be needing dining car vouchers?"

"No thanks." He says, tries to search for the gawking
attendant out of the corner of his eye. Comes up blank. Fuck.

"Do you have any luggage to check, sir?" The lady asks,
glancing up and down his rumpled frame.

"No, I'm traveling light." He says, tries not to dance.
Where the hell is his TICKET, how long can it take to stamp ONE lousy piece
of paper, goddammit, they don't have TIME for this...

"Are you going for the summer festival?" She asks, lazily
signing something in a record book. "I hear the fireworks are so pretty..."

Ed gapes. Fuck, the bitch is just trying to stall him.
They must have called the police. They must have.

"Good day, ma'am." He says curtly, reaches over the counter,
and snatches his ticket from her fingers.

"Hey—"

It is all he can do not to run.

He does break into a trot as he approaches the platform
stairs; the train is sounding its second whistle. The third one means its pulling
away. He finds his car as fast as possible and boards quick, keeps his head
down. A couple people murmur as he pushes his way into the crowded carriage
—one woman sniffs mightily when he bumps her leg, oh lady, please
but he wants the window seat on the bench. He wants to be able to see them coming,
so he knows who he's dealing with.

He sinks down onto the unforgiving bench and just stares
out the window, waiting for it. He keeps expecting the police to show up, Harp
to show up, even as the third whistle sounds and they pull away from the station.
Even as his brother finds him, scolds him, for seating in a different car. Expects
at every mile for the train to start slowing, to hear the emergency break sound,
because they aren't that far really, the train is going to stop—

And it never does.