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militsa

Magnet

chapter 5.

They dropped into the courtyard behind their flat and stood there for a moment.Ed had no idea where they were going, but he was animated by a strong sense of responsibility for Alfons, and also, that old friend, self-preservation. He grabbed Alfons' cold hand and pulled him along the alleyways between their building and the next, then pulled him through the narrow passage onto the street.The yellow gaslight lamps hissed and their flames danced in the light wind.It was cold, but not terribly so.Ed looked left, then right.There was no one around; it was late, probably right in the dead hours before dawn.Nothing would be open, no beer halls or restaurants to get lost in, no shops to dash into, no movie theaters, no nothing.


He knew no one in this city, he realized.No one who wasn't presently connected with the business at hand. Still, he ran, pulling Alfons behind him, in the direction of the University.He thought of everyone, everyone he knew, no matter how tenuously.If Hohenheim were here...His father's circle of acquaintance was quite large-but he didn't know any of them well enough to impose himself on them in the middle of the night.He thought of the physician who had cared for him when he first came to Munich, a friend of his father's, but again, he only knew where his surgery was, not his home, and it wouldn't be open for hours now.Listening to Alfons' labored breathing as he struggled to keep up with him made the idea of going to a doctor more appealing by the second.Alfons stumbled behind him, letting go his hand.Ed turned to see Alfons with his head down, hands on his knees, apparently trying to cough up a lung.

He couldn't even escape with him properly.It was hopeless.Part of him wanted to kick him, but sympathy triumphed over impulse and impatience.He put his arm around Alfons' hunched shoulders.

"Come on, we have to at least get out of the middle of the street.Come on."He took his hand again, but even as he conceded that he had to alter his pace to walking quickly, he still had to drag Alfons.That infernal cough made his skin crawl.He'd never heard anything like that, deep and sharp and it hurt just to hear it.

He stopped.Still holding his hand, Edward looked up at Alfons, who had stopped the coughing for a moment and was obviously struggling to take a deep breath.

"The hospital will be open now...it'll be warm in there, the doctors can take a look at you..." Ed said.He raised his eyebrows and tried to make a hopeful face.

"No," Alfons said."I don't need that."He caught his breath and swallowed."I'm fine."

That was exactly what Ed had wanted to hear.The idea of getting involved with the hospital was happily dismissed.Like a snake had been abiding in his stomach, something inside uncoiled like a spring, his pulse was beating in his head, but he was nearly elated, thrilled by the chase.It was like his former life.He grabbed Alfons' hand again and, pulling, launched into his ungainly run.It wasn't quite like it had used to be; he wasn't as strong, or as coordinated, as he had once been, and the person he was dragging along wasn't who it had used to be, but it was close enough.


They slowed to a walk after putting what Ed estimated to be three or four kilometers between them and Metzger.They were nearing the neighborhood of the University, site of the biggest library in Munich, location of his father's shared office, and, he knew, there was a gate to the campus that was always open, and an alcove just off the main entrance to the library that was shelter from the weather.He had waited there for his father sometimes.

They climbed the steps slowly, Ed still pulling Alfons by the hand; it didn't occur to him to let go.It felt so right to be attached.He was feeling awfully protective, and it felt right.A certain feeling of propriety overwhelmed him.Alfons belonged to him now, just as Al once had.

Breathless and exhausted, they huddled into the small space between two immense columns.There was a large marble trough here, that in the spring held plants, but the space behind it was adequate for huddling behind and by virtue of its tightness, was quite warm despite being comprised of marble.By necessity of all kinds, they were pressed together, close.

It was the first time they were touching like this, outside of their flat.Edward was sharply aware of this and it felt different, exciting.To have taken their relationship outside the flat made it seem like it belonged in the world, like they belonged, even while they were hiding in the middle of the night.They sat with their knees up and shoulders pressed close together, their heads bent together, gloveless hands clasping.Alfons reached for Edward's artificial hand and Ed let him take it.He couldn't feel the pressure of the other hand as it squeezed the mechanical fingers, sheathed in rubber.He wiggled them slightly, as much as he could, frustrated, as always, with how lame the hand really was.

But Alfons held on to both hands and leaned his head on Ed's shoulder.Ed buried his nose and mouth in his cropped hair; it was almost hard, spiky, sticky with sweat and sleep and whatever else.

He realized that he had never, ever been so physically close to anyone.Maybe not even to Al, aside from when they were very young.He had never wanted to crawl inside someone else's skin, to get closer than he possibly could, and he felt like no matter what he did, he could never get close enough.

The patch of sky that could be seen from their hiding space was turning from pitch to azure.The wind had died down to admit a still, chilly dawn.It really did feel like they were the only people in this world; and, Ed was surprised to find, that didn't feel too bad.

"I have something to tell you," he said quietly.His cheeks were already warming with embarrassment.

Alfons didn't raise his head from Ed's shoulder when he said lazily, "Mmm? What?"

"Well, you know me," Ed began, still embarrassed but pleased with himself for pushing forward."When I read something a couple of times, it just gets imprinted on my brain.You know how I am."

"Yeah," Alfons said softly, his voice soft and gently amused, as if he knew what was coming."I'm like that too."

"Yeah...so, I realized, without even meaning to...I memorized a poem from that book...that Rilke, on the kitchen table...you know, that one?"

They were being disingenuous, but it was out of shyness.Alfons raised his head and faced Edward.

"Ah, yes, I believe I know the one, of which you speak," he said with exaggerated formality.

Ed realized that he meant to be funny but he was still embarrassed."Don't look at me," Edward said, gently pushing Alfons' face away with his hand.Alfons obediently turned to face forward, but Ed could not mistake the small smile.

"Understand, I'll slip quietly

away from the noisy crowd

when I see the pale

stars rising, blooming, over the oaks.

I'll pursue solitary pathways

through the pale twilit meadows,

with only this one dream..."

He paused for effect, and also because he was so overheated with embarrassment.But before he took another breath, Alfons' voice softly added the final line:

"You come too."[8]


That moment, that moment was great.Alfons couldn't have asked for anything more.He was in a morbid mood and therefore musing that he could die happy, now, now that he'd had Edward recite a love poem to him.Who would have thought such a thing could happen?Not only that, but Edward seemed so damned pleased with himself that he was practically glowing. He looked quite beautiful with the thin yellow light of dawn on him, his cheeks mottled pink and white with cold, his eyes shining, and his hair hanging all about him in an untamed mess.

He thought he would never, as long or as short a time that he lived, forget that face, and how he looked that morning.

But as day came, more unpleasant thoughts crowded out those precious quiet hours on the library's doorstep.Klaussen, dead.It was just last night that he had seen that, but it seemed that he had known that terror for years now.How had he made it this far in life, having lived through a terrible war, without having seen something like that, he just didn't know.

Thoughts unsettled him; Klaussen grilling him on Oberth's work, the taking of notes, the secretiveness of these sessions and his proposition to take him on, all this began to disturb him the more he thought about it.Why had Klaussen taken such an interest in him?

Edward gripped his hand and pulled him up.The library would be opening soon; now a few people could be seen moving across the campus.

"Some night, huh?" Edward said.He pushed his loose hair away from his shoulders. "I can't walk around like this."He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a small piece of the leather cord he used to tie his hair and handed it to Alfons.Alfons knew he would spend a few minutes every morning tying his hair back with one hand; his artifical arm didn't have the range of motion for his right hand to reach behind his shoulder.But Edward didn't usually like to be helped; today he didn't even ask, just handed him the tie, as if he did it every day.

"That was definitely more adventure than I'm used to," Alfons said, clumsily tying the knot with freezing fingers.His head felt more clear now than it had for hours; the medicine was wearing off.

Edward turned to look at him and grinned.He wanted to kiss him then, but now it was light, and they were exposed, in front of God and everyone.


They were waiting by the library doors when they opened.The two of them went inside and immediately sat down at a table, just to sit in chairs, like normal people, and get warm.Alfons noticed some dirty looks from the librarians, but he was too tired to care.He only wanted to put his head down on the table and fall asleep...

Edward was tugging at his wrist.He leaned close and whispered urgently.

"We can't stay here all day."

"Let's go home," Alfons said, knowing full well that Edward would disagree with him.

"Don't be stupid.Someone'll be watching the place."

"Edward, if I don't get to lie down soon..."

Edward's hand squeezed his wrist. "I know.I'm thinking..."

Alfons felt another hand, a much bigger hand than the one that was holding his wrist, clamp and squeeze his shoulder.He knew Edward was experiencing the same from the way he stiffened beside him.

"Here you are, boys," came the voice of Metzger from behind."You're as predictable as I thought you'd be.How many times have you mentioned that you come here to study?" He clucked his tongue at them."How amateur.Just come with me.I'm not in the best of moods, as you've kept me up all night."

Alfons really did not know how much more of this he could take, how much longer he would last before collapsing.He felt faint and shuddery as he and Edward were pushed gently into the motorcar parked just outside the campus gate.Metzger sat himself between them.The top was down and as the car sped through the streets towards the docklands, the sharp cool air tore at Alfons' eyes and ears.

"I'm very disappointed in you, Heiderich," Metzger said conversationally.Alfons closed his eyes and turned his face away.He was certain that he could not stand the pressure of being dressed-down by Metzger, or anyone else."Of everyone on that team, I would have thought you least susceptible to Klaussen."

Alfons turned to look at him."I don't understand what you mean."

Metzger gave a small laugh. "I suppose you really don't."

If this entire thing was designed to make him feel stupid and small, it certainly was working a charm.


They were standing in the laboratory, on the spot where just hours ago, they had both seen Klaussen's body sprawled, with the two men Metzger had had with him the night before.They were gathered around the pool of blood, flecked with what Alfons took to be bits of brain.It was still there, left to congeal as a grisly souvenir.Alfons felt dizzy looking at it; standing close to it, he had a fleeting, panicky thought that he just might step into it, on purpose, and shock everyone, including himself.

Edward had his hands shoved deep into his pockets, his shoulders hunched up toward his ears, that little crease that appeared between his eyes when he was angry or worried deep and apparent.

"Klaussen was spying for the English," Metzger said."I'm going to assume that neither of you knew this, or I'll have to have you shot in the head too."He looked Alfons right in the eye, and he had to look away, then at Edward, who didn't. "Gottschalk can be credited with setting the machine in motion, finding out who Klaussen really was.He's been in Germany since the war, tasked with finding out secrets about our nation's technological development, particularly rocketry and weaponry."

"Under the Treaty of Versailles, sir, we are not permitted to develop weapons," Alfons said.

Metzger gave him an amused look and paced a bit to land in front of Edward.

"When we received warning that there was a spy here, naturally you fell under suspicion, Elric.It's well known you came here from London with your father; it's also well known your father has lately, and quite mysteriously, made himself scarce.When we heard that bit of news, we were certain that it was you." Metzger stepped away from Edward and moved back to lean against a worktable.He took a cigarette case from inside his coat and removed one cigarette, then snapped the case shut.

"But then, it came to our attention that Klaussen and Heiderich here had begun spending time here together, off hours, late into the evening.What I found particularly odd was that I could find no evidence of any extra work being done when I came in to poke around in the mornings."Metzger lit his cigarette.Alfons' heart was beating so fast he thought he would swoon.Metzger tapped ash onto the floor.

"Did you know, Heiderich, that Klaussen was passing your and Oberth's formulas on to the British?"

Alfons let his head fall.He looked at his worn shoes, the fraying cuffs of his trousers, and at the dirty concrete floor of the laboratory, which began to spin.

Then he went down.


He came to in a new place altogether.He took his bearings as his eyes slowly focused and used his other senses to take in the room; he could feel smooth leather against his cheek: leather sofa. There was a large oriental rug on a polished wood floor. He could smell the odor of coal burning and feel the emanation of heat somewhere by his head: a coal-burning fireplace.When he tried to sit up the room spun around him and he let himself fall back down before trying again.Then there were footsteps and someone beside him, and he was being pulled into a sitting position.The dizziness was abating, and Edward's face was before him.

"Hey," Edward said."Are you all right?"

Alfons nodded.Edward's arm snaked around his neck, hand squeezed his shoulder.No one else must have been near, because Edward then tipped his head against his own, and stayed there for a moment.

"I'm just glad you're okay.You've been out for a while."

"How long?"

"More than an hour.Metzger had his guys put you in his car.We're in his office right now. We've been banned from the lab."

Alfons lifted his head and straightened his spine.He had to know the worst right now.

"I'm such an idiot," he said."You must hate me."

Edward withdrew his arm and seemed to blink in surprise.Then he looked down and was quiet for a long moment.What was he thinking about?Alfons had said that hoping, of course, for an immediate and consoling contradiction.He felt even more deflated.Edward did hate him...or at least, no longer respected him. And why should he?


"This is all very touching," Metzger's voice and person suddenly intruded into the room.He strode over to his desk and picked up some papers."But I don't have the time for this crap right now.If you are quite conscious, Heiderich, you may take your leave."

Edward stood and hooked his hand under Alfons' armpit, pulling him up.Alfons rose shakily but he felt he was no longer in danger of making a spectacle of himself.He burned with embarrassment-what kind of person was he?A traitor, a sucker?He felt debased, but still, burnt by being used by Klaussen...he couldn't leave Metzger's presence without saying something in his own defense.

What came out of his mouth was: "You murdered Klaussen!"

Metzger sat down at the chair behind his desk and looked down at the paper he had before him, before even deigning to answer him. "I didn't do anything.I found him here, and we've dispensed with the body, and that's the end of it.The people who need to know about this will know.Otherwise, this goes away; Gottschalk prefers that this breech not be made public.It's best if you both forget all about it." He waved his hand."If I hear any of this has gotten into the papers, I'll know it's one of you," he added coolly.

"But, all our work...Klaussen was the team leader, he must have everything somewhere, how will we continue-"

Metzger interrupted him."Surely you realize that we can't use you at Astra any longer? You and Elric both, you're through.We're also letting Reinert and Becker go.We can't afford to have any of you who've been tainted by Klaussen."

"But we've done so much-"

"Alfons," Edward cut him off."It's not worth it.We can find work someplace else."Alfons was dismayed to realize that Edward was still propping him up and pulled away.

“No!”

"Please control your wife, Elric," Metzger said dismissively.Alfons felt his cheeks burn. "You've gotten yourself into enough trouble as it is.Just walk away from this. I consider it finished. Just be pleased I'm not going to have you arrested for colluding with Klaussen."His eyes suddenly became more fierce."I despair for Germany's future if you're the best we've got.A pathetic weakling, so desperate for approval you wereeasily seduced by a snake like Klaussen...and a degenerate too."His eyes flicked toward Edward and he shook his head."Now get out of here and don't let me see either of you again."

Alfons stared at Metzger for a moment, shocked and disarmed, his mind searching for something to say in response, something sharp, something that would redeem himself.But he could come up with nothing.He finally turned to go, feeling kicked and defeated.

Edward followed him but before he passed through the door he stopped and turned back to Metzger, who seemed to have already immersed himself in his paperwork.

"Hey, Metzger," said Edward."We're owed for two days' work."

"Get the fuck out of here," Metzger said breezily, not even raising his eyes from the papers.


Alfons was passed out on the bed beside him, his mouth open, snoring, but there were still streaks of dried tears on his cheeks.He'd cried when they had arrived home, he was so ashamed of himself, and so utterly exhausted that he didn't even bother to try to hide it.He had just flung himself face-down on the bed and buried his face in the pillow until he had fallen asleep, and Ed had just sat next to him and watched.What else was there to do?

There, there, he had tried, patting him gently on the back.It's not so bad.Fuck Metzger and Klaussen and all of them.We don't need them.Who cares what they think?

Ed felt somewhat responsible for that mess-up with Klaussen.He should have been more on guard, he should have seen what was going on.But he hadn't paid enough attention to what was going on around him at work-distracted by his own detachment, disillusionment with the rocketry work, his father's disappearance, and his relationship with Heiderich-and he hadn't seen what was going on.He felt like a fool, and a child, and it was not a feeling he liked.He didn't like being mocked.Did everything have to be so ridiculously complicated?

He smoothed Alfons' hair back from his forehead, but he snored on.Ed was utterly exhausted but he felt wired, still distracted.That was over, but it wasn't.Now they would have to find somewhere else to work.It's not like those types of jobs grew on trees either.And now that his father was missing, what little money he still had from the last time he had seen him had to be carefully budgeted.

Thinking of his father reminded him of the bottle of brandy on the bedside table.He reached for it and pulled out the cork; it had already been unsealed and opened, a couple of shots already gone, but it was still nearly full.He poured a bit into the cracked ceramic cup sitting on the table and downed it quickly; he wasn't much used to drinking liquor and coughed a little as it pleasantly burned its way down his throat.

He held the bottle close; he wished Alfons were awake.He felt very alone in this world right now.At least when his father had been around, he had felt somewhat protected and looked after, not that he needed it; he just liked it.He hated thinking about what really might have happened to his father, the man who had pretty much rescued him when he had come through the Gate.In some ways, he felt they were almost even-if it hadn't been for his mother...but his father had been very protective and attentive to him since they'd been trapped in this world together.He even had some fond memories, now, of how the man had gone to great lengths to make things up to him.He found it very difficult to believe that Hohenheim would have just taken off somewhere without telling him, even though he would have liked to believe that; he might even have liked to hate him for it.He couldn't stand to lose someone else.But in his heart of hearts, he knew something terrible had happened to him.

Another shot of brandy might obscure that feeling, for a little while, at least, and let him rest.

When he went back through the Gate, perhaps he would take Alfons with him.He could imagine that the cleaner air and the bluer sky of his world would heal him, that alchemy could fix whatever was broken inside him.As he fell asleep, Ed placed his hand over Alfons' heart and left it there, and imagined that he felt the tiniest remnants of the former energy he had once been able to command suffuse into his skin.

You come too.


Alfons hadn't dreamt at all that night, but slept deeply, bereft of dreams and glad for it.When he awoke in the earliest hours of the next day, he was immediately reminded of how he had failed, even as he opened his eyes.He found Edward's hand open and palm-down, fingers splayed open over his chest.Edward was asleep on his side, breathing slow and deep.Alfons put his own hand over the one on his heart.

Edward stirred and moved closer.His foot burrowed under Alfons' calf.He was so close that the only way to get closer would be to get under his skin.

"I almost took you down with me...I'm so sorry," Alfons whispered.The guilt was still sharp and new.He had never realized how bad it would feel to be so used.If Klaussen had made good on his threats...they were so fortunate that Metzger had better things to do...they had been exposed and clearly it could happen again...what did they think they were doing?Alfons stretched his arm around Edward, squeezed gently, felt the contour of Edward's body against his.It would never be the same with someone else; no one else would be like him, and he knew with a painful certainty that he would never be with anyone else, ever.

He kissed the top of Edward's head and gently pulled away and rose from the bed, leaving Edward to curl up into himself like a snail pried from its shell.


The book was there on the kitchen table.It had been more than he had ever dared to hope for, hearing the words of that poem come out of Edward's mouth.Forget anything else; he wasn't that romantic, he didn't care.He would probably die without anyone, ever having said Ich liebe dich... I love you.He so belonged to Edward that it was painful to think about, because sometime soon, he knew, one way or another, they would be parted.This wasn't for forever, because it wasn't really proper, it wasn't meant to be, because it wasn't right, because he was sick and Edward was crazy, because the world could come to an end at any moment.

My eyes rest upon your face wide-open;

and they hold you gently, letting you go

when something in the dark begins to move.[9]

He went through the book and underlined everything they had both marked in pencil with ink.This book belonged to the library, and it was long overdue.When they gave it back, at least, everything they'd said to each other would be there, indelible.It would be there long after he and Edward were forced to part ways, and probably long after he was dead; he would have to tell him, soon: they couldn't be together.

He felt the cough starting to take hold again, a knot of pain in his lung, and reached for his medicine.He was tired of being strong and pretending he didn't need it.He poured himself a tablespoon of the elixir and went back to bed for another dreamless sleep.


Endnotes

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) is considered by many to be one of the greatest poets of the German language and the key figure in the transition from traditional to modernist poetry.

Rilke spent several years of his youth studying and writing in Munich. In 1902 he wrote a (prose) monograph on the sculptor Auguste Rodin, who, coincidentally, is the creator of the sculpture "The Gates of Hell" upon which The Gate in FMA is modeled.

1 Rainer Maria Rilke, "Dedication"

2 This is actually an equation for calculating rocket thrust

3 RMR "Loneliness"

4 RMR "Song"

5 RMR "The Neighbor"

6 RMR "For Hans Carossa"

7 RMR "[ignorant before the heavens of my life]"

8 RMR "Pathways"

9 RMR "To Say Before Going to Sleep"