"Angefurt," the conductor droned steadily, "this is the Angefurt stop. Transfers please wait on the south platform. This is the Angefurt stop. Transfers please wait..."
"That's us, Al," Ed said, standing from the train seat with a jaw-cracking yawn. "Let's go." He picked up his suitcase and hopped off the train, stretching after spending so much time on the cramped seat. Al clanked after him.
"Wait, Niisan," he called as his brother started towards the station exit. "Don't the transfer trains come in on the other side?"
"Yeah, but we can take the next one," Ed called back. "I want to get something to eat. Nobody will mind if we're a few hours late."
Al sighed, shaking his metal head, and tagged after Ed. He caught up with him as his brother passed out of the station, looking about the town with interest. There was plenty to look at; the streets were lively and busy, with people in brightly colored clothes bustling about on their errands, children running every which way, street vendors hawking food and souvenirs.
"This looks like a lively town for a change," Ed commented aside. Then he frowned. "Come to think of it... Angefurt. Ange—Al, haven't we been here once before?"
"You don't remember?" Al was surprised. Then he chuckled. "We were here two years ago, Niisan. Don't you remember? The Spielzurg bandits?"
"I remember them," Ed said.
"They were using this place to resupply," Al explained. "This was where we caught them and fought against them. You really don't remember?"
"Oh yeah... Huh!" Ed looked around, brightening. "Wow, it looks a lot different upright and not burning."
Al sighed, again. "I bet they remember us, Niisan," he reproached.
Ed snorted, hefting his suitcase over his shoulder. "Naw," he said. "It was two years ago, they've got better things to do. I'd be surprised if they even remembered our names."
The voice boomed out across the road, and Al jerked and stiffened, Ed choked, and nearly tripped over his own boots. They whirled to see the source of the voice, looking wildly about them.
Oddly enough, nobody seemed to have noticed they were there. In fact, nobody seemed to be paying attention to them at all. Nobody came striding out of the crowd towards them, either.
"Get your Elric brothers regalia, right here!" the voice boomed, and a startled Ed and Al followed the source of the voice over to a stall in the side of the road. "The heroes who saved Angefurt! The nationally renowned alchemist brothers! Mugs, hats, emblems, jackets, and—of course—figurines!"
"Figur—what?" Ed spluttered, turning a laser-glare on the street vendor. Growling under his breath, he began shoving his way through the crowd. Al trailed nervously after, suddenly aware once more of how conspicuous he was.
The crowd parted, and they were treated to the sight of—as promised—a street stall full of merchandise. Most of it was just everyday, household items decorated with the symbol of the flamel, which both the Elric brothers carried. Displayed prominently on the front shelf, however, was a row of varying sizes of plush toys—from fist-sized up to the size of a small child.
It took Alphonse a moment to realize that he was looking at a gray, fuzzy, stylized version of his own armor. A very popular item, apparently, judging by the gaps in the rows—one little kid was happily carrying one off even as they watched, and a housewife with children in tow was stopping to look over the array.
"What the hell is this?" Ed had gone flat into pissed-off mode, and now the crowd was beginning to turn and look; first at Al, then at Ed. Murmurs began to spread through the crowd, under the loud clamor of Ed's rant. "Who the hell gave you the permission to do this? Whoever said that you could make these things and—and sell them without asking us or letting us know and making money off of us—"
The vendor tried to say something—in defense of his actions, or what, Al wasn't sure, because Ed lunged forward and grabbed his collar, yanking him forward and down over the shelf. Hats and toys spilled left and right, and Al made a grab for one of the dolls before it hit the dusty road.
He was horribly aware of the eyes of the crowd on him, filled with awe, and with fear. It wasn't exactly a new awareness, these days, but it didn't mean it was one he had to like. To avoid looking at them, he concentrated on the little doll he had grabbed. It was one of the medium-sized ones, about the size of a small cat—his large hands could close about it entirely. He couldn't tell for certain, but he thought it had been made out of felt, with a long white tassel for the topknot. The eyes were made of buttons, and the mouth... the grim jagged line had somehow been turned into a smile, sewn into the fabric with the same small stitches as the red embroidery of the flannel on his arm.
It had... it had... somehow it was cute, it was him, but made small and cute. Al looked at it long and hard, and felt some almost forgotten feelings rising up through the hollow spaces.
Ed was still ranting—in fact, he thought his brother was just getting warmed up. "—and hypocrites," he was shouting. "What d'you think you're doing—making a mockery of us, like we're some kind of joke! Look at this!" He snatched up one of the dolls and shook it in the man's face. "This is my brother—you've made him into a damned children's toy, what the hell kind of thanks is this for—"
"Niisan, stop," Al interrupted, feeling the attention of the crowd back on them. People were backing away, speaking in nervous, hushed tones. Ed turned his head to look at him, eyes wide. Al felt awkward, but he had to explain—he really should have been restraining Ed from the beginning, but—
"It's okay," he said, feeling completely inadequate. "I—I don't mind. I really don't. It's fine."
"Fine?!" Ed sounded outraged. He waved the doll up at Al, although he couldn't reach to shove it in his face the way he had the hapless townsman. "Al, it's—it's a plush toy! And it's supposed to be you! It's humiliating!"
"No, it's not, it's..." he trailed off, and sighed, letting his armored shoulder slump. he said, lowering his voice. "Niisan, look at me," he said, lowering his voice. "I'm—already scary enough as I am. This... even if it's just a joke, it's a way that I—I can be soft, and cuddly, and small again."
Ed had gone silent, eyes large, mouth hanging open. Al felt stupid. "Never mind," he mumbled, eyes on the ground. "Just—leave the poor man alone, and let's go back to the train, okay? We've already made enough of a scene."
"Al... you..." Ed sputtered incoherently, then threw up his hands in disgust. "Gah! Fine!" he said. "But I'm not going anywhere without food!"
He stomped off in a huff, abandoning Al to the attentions of the amazed, curious crowd.
It wasn't in Ed's nature to apologize, at least not out loud. But the apology was clear in his manner when they met up again at the train station, and talked for a long time while waiting for their train to arrive. The townspeople, once they'd gotten over being stunned by Ed's tantrum, had been very kind; not only had they not blamed him or gotten him in trouble, but even insisted on giving them free food and a hearty round of thanks before sending them on their way once more.
On the train again, swaying steadily towards Central, Al stared at the flamel emblazoned on his brother's back, and thought about what it meant to have their symbol, their mark of desperation, printed on a hundred minor everyday items in the town, maybe even across the country. He was surprised to find that there were no feelings of resentment or jealousy in him, for their happiness, their easy lifestyle, their lack of true understanding. He wouldn't want them to have gone through such things, that would enable them to understand.
Ed grunted, and mumbled something that sounded like "fish." He turned over in his sleep, flopping onto his back with his hair falling in his face, and a flash of gray caught Alphonse's eyes. Startled, he leaned forward and looked more closely. In his sleep, Edward clutched to his chest one of the little gray plush toys. And when Alphonse reached over to try and take it, he growled and pulled it possessively close.