Though Pinako and Winry never complained about their extended stay, Ed knew
it was time to go. They were being pushed out—not by the women, but by their
automail clients. There was only one guest room in the house, and while it was
quite large and held three beds, it still was a pain to share. Especially after
Al caught one of the customers looking through Ed's personal alchemy notebook
like it was casual reading.
"We need privacy," Ed explained. "And we really need to
get started in our lives. We aren't automail engineers. We need a place to set
up shop on our own."
Winry had stormed off when they told her they were leaving.
But the next day, as if it were nothing at all, she'd accompanied them into
town to look for a place to hang their shingle. She found one only a block from
the train station, a two story brick row house in a mixed use neighborhood.
The lower floor could easily be converted into a shop and workroom, and the
upper floor was a fine two-bedroom apartment.
"The Elric Brothers Alchemists," said Al proudly looking
over the sign he'd just painted. "I think we are in business."
They visited the Rockbell's every Saturday. And after
dinner, if it was at all clear, the three of them would go out and stare at
Ed tried to envision the pictures everyone else seemed
to see in the dots, but nothing came. He turned to Al to mention the silliness
of grouping unrelated stars simply because they were visible together in the
night sky when he noticed Al had rolled away from him.
He and Winry were close to each other, whispering too
low to be heard over the wind. Her hand touched Al's back. His hand touched
her hair. There was a smothered laugh at something meant only for the two of
Ed felt a flush of anger at being snubbed, then a dull
resentment settled in behind his stomach.
It was not as if he'd been courting Winry.
It was not as if he expected Al to live in his shadow.
It was not as if he didn't want them to be happy.
But right at that moment, Ed didn't want to see them together.
So as quietly as he could he stood up and backed away, over the grass and back
to the house. And when their voices called out to him, he didn't look back,
and pretended not to hear.
Al knew his brother wasn't content. Honestly, he wasn't
either. Every day Al saw the glint of metal on his brother and turned his head
away. A little reminder of unfinished business. They never mentioned it to each
other but the subject lay in the background, just waiting to rear its head again.
"I've been thinking," said Ed one night over spaghetti.
"The real trouble with human Alchemy isn't in the body. The body is just flesh
—material components. It's easy to reproduce. It's the soul, always the soul
that gets in the way."
Al nodded. "It's unquantifiable. How can you trade for
something you can't measure?"
"But what if the soul isn't involved? Then is it really
so terrible to do a transmutation on human flesh?"
"You mean on dead things?"
"No, no." Ed leaned forward over the table, not noticing
his sleeve dipping into the sauce. "For example, someone cuts off their hand.
Would it be so hard to put it in an alchemy circle and attach it back on again?
The man's alive, it's just putting the pieces together, just like a stereo or
any other piece of junk. The soul isn't in your hand. Or would the soul have
to be joined back into the part? In any case, no one would be creating a soul.
It's not a factor."
"Are you wanting to put Winry out of business?" said Al
with a smile.
"Of course not, but think it through. If it works with
a hand, why not some part that we DON'T have automail for. How about an eye?
Or a heart? Or even an illness? Why can't we use alchemy to heal instead of
hurt. Hell, we can put a man in the hospital with ease, so why can't we use
alchemy to take him back out again? We aren't talking resurrection. We're talking
Al was intrigued.
"I want to go back to Central," said Ed.
Al's heart sank. "You aren't signing up again!"
"Hell, no! No I won't have access to the National Library,
but there are other libraries there. Maybe not as thorough, but open to the
public. I can check them. See if anyone else has thought on these lines."
"Mustang won't be able to help you," said Al.
The silence was heavy for a while.
Mustang was in prison. His coup had failed. Failed even
before it had really started. Ed never wanted to talk about that either. Al
knew he felt guilty. If Ed hadn't resigned, perhaps the coup would have gone
But this was the past. Mustang was still alive, for now
at least. The last the two of them had heard, he had confessed in exchange for
all his underlings getting off with a demotion and reassignment to different
regiments. It was strange to think that a man who was so in control would be
reduced so low.
They had not bothered to send him a letter. They knew
he wouldn't have received it.
"I think after all the death and destruction, I'm ready
to do a bit of healing," said Ed, switching the subject back. "It will be a
"I have something to show you," said Al the day of Ed's departure. Ed woke up
out of his reverie and noticed that Al was looking exhausted. "It's down in
the workroom. I was up all night making it." Al caught his flesh arm at the
elbow and tugged him down the stairs.
On the workbench was a large piece of parchment with an
unusual array drawn on it. Curiosity piqued, Ed hurried over to study it, running
his fingers along the black lines. "What is it? It's similar to arrays for making
duplicates of something."
Al smiled broadly. "You aren't the only one who can do
his own research."
Ed felt his stomach growing heavy. "I can't take you to
Central with me, Al. Someone needs to stay here and mind the store."
"I know," said Al. Ed heard the bitterness in his voice.
It was true, between Ed's automail and the setting up shop most of their father's
money had been spent. With Ed's military income gone, the shop was their only
source or revenue. If Ed was going to realize his dreams of Alchemical Medicine,
he would need a lot of equipment and resources. Al's unspoken job was to provide.
"But that doesn't mean you need to spend weeks away. Hand
me your notebook," said Al.
Ed raised an eyebrow but complied, pulling the slim volume
from his coat pocket.
Al put it into the array and then laid another notebook
next to it. "Look: blank," he said. Then he laid a bottle of ink between the
"If you wreck my notes..." threatened Ed.
"Watch." Al touched the array. Bright light flooded the
workroom, and then the bottle of ink was empty. Ed snatched back his notebook
and glanced feverishly through the pages. They were exactly as he had written
them. But then Al picked up the blank notebook and showed him. There, oh God,
there was an exact replica of his writing, down to the ink splotches.
Al rolled up the parchment and handed it to him. "Instead
of doing your research there, bring it home. We can do it together."
Ed broke out into one of his fiercest smiles. "You bet."
Winry knew Al was sad. He hid it pretty well, but on those
days when Ed was off running around the country in pursuit of whatever it was
he was pursuing, Al would become extra quiet, as if a part of him had gone along
for the trip and left his body behind.
It annoyed her.
They were kissing now, tenderly on the porch. Feather
light touches of lips against lips, against hands. Necks. A gentle stroke down
the back of her dress. Their feet slid out of shoes, his toe playfully scratched
But he wasn't hers. Some part of him was still grafted
onto his brother. And Ed didn't even seem to appreciate it. He didn't even seem
to notice the hurt when he missed Al's 16th birthday. True the trains had been
unexpectedly shut down for a few days, Fuhrer's orders, but still, it made Winry
mad. Ed could have found a way to get home. Ed simply apologized off handedly
and switched the subject. None of them had mentioned it again.
She had dinner quite a few nights at Al's place, while
his brother's room lay darkened. She'd tease Al while he cooked, spanking him
lightly with a spatula. And they'd hold hands over the table, and talk about
politics, and automail, and alchemy, and art. Al would wrap his arms around
her as she washed the dishes and whisper nonsense words in her ears, drawing
out each syllable until she laughed at the absurdity, or threatened to break
Al never invited her over when his brother was there.
"It makes him uncomfortable to see us together," Al said
"Then he really should get used to it."
"I think maybe he's jealous."
"Well, he certainly had his chance with me," Winry said.
"I used to have a huge crush on him when I was younger. I'd give him grief for
messing up the automail, but I loved working on it. But he never ever did anything.
Well, the crush is over. I've found the right brother. He can live with it."
"It's nice to know you settled for me," Al said, and Winry
just about kicked herself.
"I didn't say that."
"It's ok. I'm used to being the other Elric."
"You were NEVER the other Elric. Not with me." But he
wasn't convinced, and he never really smiled until his brother returned.
No, you aren't the other Elric, thought Winry bitterly,
as she watched the two hug each other on the train platform, but perhaps
I'm the other Ed.
Fourteen months after Al became flesh, he dropped a letter onto the workbench
next to Ed and then stood back. "What do they want, Brother?" The dangerous
tone in Al's voice jerked Ed to attention.
He looked up from the broken toy he had been about to
fix, and flipped the letter over. The return address was Army Headquarters in
Central. It wouldn't be Mustang, Ed knew. It was nine months too late for that.
He didn't know of anyone else who would even want to contact him. Anger settled
into the pit of his stomach.
"I hope it's back pay," he groused as he pried the letter
State Alchemist Edward Elric, aka Fullmetal,
Your request for resignation has been denied. You are
hereby ordered to return to Army Recruitment Headquarters, Central Division,
by no later than October 5th for reassignment. Failure to do so will be considered
an absence without leave, punishable by fine, loss of rank, and or up to five
years hard labor.
Lt. Colonel Avery Dunn
Recruitment, Reenlistment and Reactivation Supervisor
"What the HELL!" yelled Ed. "I retired! They ACCEPTED
my retirement! They can't retroactively deny it. It's been a whole goddamn YEAR."
Al swallowed hard. "It's the war." Ed never wanted to
hear about the war. He didn't want to know about the news at all. In fact it
had gotten to the point that Al had asked Winry to buy papers for him which
he'd read feverishly during his visits to her house, or when Ed was out of town.
"I'm not a State Alchemist anymore," said Ed. "I didn't
go back for Mustang, I certainly am not going to go back for Dung or whatever
his name is. It's THEIR war. I will have no part in it." Ed suddenly left the
workroom. Al followed him upstairs to Ed's bedroom. When he got there the familiar
old suitcase was open on the bed and Ed was pulling out his latest notebook
and his clothes from his bureau.
"I'm going out West this time. I've heard of a couple
of libraries out that direction. I may be a few weeks."
"What should I tell them if they come looking for you?"
"Tell them you don't know where I am. Then show them the
letter that says I'm officially RETIRED and tell them to go screw themselves
"That would probably wreck the letter," Al deadpanned.
That had gotten a laugh out of Ed.