chapter 2.

"I didn't do it!"

"HE started it!"

Al gave the two arguing boys a glare and they gulped and quieted. "I don't care who started it, you can hash it out with Sister Mary when she comes back. But if this place isn't cleaned up by then, neither of you will get dessert, got it?"

"Yes, Al..." They grumbled under their breath.

Al rolled his eyes and was just reaching for his crutch when Sister Rose stuck her head into the doorway, her expression slightly worried. "Al, I think Joey broke his train again," faint wailing could be heard through the thin walls, coming from the front yard. "Can you go check?"

He was the one that fixed it twice before, after all. Al nodded and got up. "I'll go. You two, better get to working."

He was almost out of the front door when the crying faded, then stopped. "What's the matter?" an unfamiliar but kind sounding voice asked.

"My train broke." Joey's voice floated back to him, complete with a small sniffle. "See?"

He took a step forward, then leaned against the doorframe and watched the going-ons. The sandy-haired stranger carefully took Joey's train in his hands and examined it. Both Al and Joey watched with interest when the man reached into his pocket and took out a piece of chalk, then proceeded to draw an elaborate looking circle on the sidewalk. Once that was done, the stranger set the train down in the middle along with the broken wheel, and gave Joey a smile.

"It'll make a loud noise for a second, but don't be scared, okay?"

As promised, one loud noise and flash of brilliant white light later, the smoke cleared and the train was whole again. Joey gasped in awe and Al raised an eyebrow.

"Wow, mister, are you a ma-ji-shan?" Joey asked with wide eyes as Al pushed himself off the doorframe. The stranger shook his head.

"It's called alchemy."

"Al-ke-mee," Joey repeated.

"Joey," Al called, drawing their attention to him. He dismissed the look of shock on the stranger's face as part of the normal reaction to people seeing him and his missing limbs. "You're forgetting something. What do you say?"

"Thank you for fixing my train." Joey said obediently, and bowed before laughing and running off. "My train's all fixed, Al!" The boy held up the said toy and Al made the obligatory affirmative noises.

"Go inside and show Sister Rose." The stranger's mouth was moving as if he wanted to say something, but could not. Al could not help but feel irritated, it was quite unnerving to be stared at . But still, the guy had saved him some trouble, so he squished down the irritation and tried to look friendly. "Joey's really attached to that train, so thanks for fixing it." He was still being stared at, and it was starting to graduate to the level of being uncomfortable. "Is there something on my face?"

And the stranger only stared at him and whispered, "Nii-san."


A man with black hair and eyes from the military had visited the church, the nuns told him, and spoke with his brother at length. He had left without saying anything else, without answering their questions. They didn't remember his name or rank but they remembered the silver State Alchemist watch at his belt and the transmutation circles on his gloves.

Al knew the Flame Alchemist must have had his reasons – extremely good reasons – but he could not help but feel a bit of hate for Roy Mustang who did not tell him where his brother was even after he found him.

Later, he would realize it was for the best and reconcile himself with the fact, and not strangle the man when they meet again. But that would be later, and now it took both Winry and his brother to convince him to not go out on a fool's errand to track down the Colonel – or was he even more highly ranked now? – and yell at him, like Ed used to do.

on Alchemy

Winry had seen the same thing in people who had survived serious head injuries. Modern science still was not advanced enough to completely understand every complexity of the brain and its functions, and there seemed to be no cure. Ed could, most of the time, draw out a perfectly good transmutation array – according to Al, anyway – but seemed unable to actually perform any alchemy, even after she outfitted him with new automail for his missing limbs and relearning everything.

Sometimes, when she went downstairs to get something from her workshop late at night, she would see a light on in his room and peek in the crack of the door. Ed would be sitting cross-legged on the ground with his back to her, an array on the ground in front of him, drawn in chalk. Sometimes he would still be staring at it when she left quietly, sometimes he would reach out with his human and and wipe away the lines.

When she asked, he would shake his head and smile. And say it was just a part of the principle of Equivalent Trade.