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pellaz

Open Up the Gates


Belfast in winter was cold and wet, much like Belfast in the summer—Ed still couldn't make a judgment call on Belfast in spring. The city was suddenly covered in canopies—a canopy of rain and of dark sky and clouds, and the canopies the citygoers moved under, little shields of umbrellas bobbing as they protected their owners from the rain. No one spoke to each other when it rained; no one looked at each other. Ed still couldn't get over the people who sat on the sidewalks in ragged clothes and little signs that begged for a few pounds, but apparently everyone else could. He'd had to stop donating money after a while, since he kept forgetting he didn't have a job here and no real way of earning money, aside from the small stipend Hohenhime sent him.

Ed stepped carefully over a puddle, shook out his shoes, and opened the door to the pub. A cheerful jingle and a wave from the owner greeted him; Ed smiled in reply, wiped his feet on the floor and moved to the back of the pub, where a small table near the window was always free. From here he could sit for as long as he wanted—the owner never demanded he leave, like others tended to—and watch the grey sky and the grey-and-black umbrellas moving down the cobbled streets. Occasionally he caught a glimpse of faces, a nose or the corner of an eye, or caught the lilt of schoolgirls' laughter as they walked to class.

"It's not that different from Central, actually," he'd commented to Hohenhime once, and his father, stirring his weak tea, had raised his eyebrows.

"Can't you say that about any place, really?"

That was true, Ed mused. Liore had, in the end, not been so different from Central; the Ishbalian children he'd met hadn't been so different from him and Al. These Belfasters, too, weren't so different, once Ed had gotten past the accent—funny accents they were, thick and fast—and the quick way they moved down their streets, never pausing to talk to anyone at all.

"Will you be having the usual this morning?" The owner was leaning on one foot, smiling at him from over his notepad. He looked as friendly as his small warm pub, always did; he was rarely not smiling. Ed liked the warmth of his gray beard and the sparkle of his green eyes.

"Yeah," he said, folding up his menu and putting it aside. "Toast, tea, eggs over easy. Thanks, Albert."

"Take it easy, Edward," and his eyes crinkled up at the edges as he smiled and winked over his shoulder.

Someone outside was playing the drums, a slow, smooth melody that mirrored the rhythm of the rain falling on the rooftops. His tea came quickly, as it always did, and Ed dipped in his spoon and began to stir the tea to the same rhythm, slow and careful, breaking the rhythm only when he took notice of it. It was harder with his left hand to keep the motion going, but he was getting better—wasn't the first time he'd had to do this, after all.

"Here you are," the old owner said, setting down a plate steaming with his toast and eggs. He pulled up a chair from another table, swung it to face Ed and sat down in it, leaning one elbow on the table. "So, how are you, Edward? Still looking for a place to settle down, are you?"

"Oh. Yeah, I guess." Ed flexed his fingers, then carefully began to cut his eggs with one hand. Over a full mouth, he said, "I got an apartment, but it's kind of, you know, not what I'm looking for right now. I guess I'll drift around, like usual—gotta have a place to call home before I can change the world, you know."

"It's too bad." Albert shook his head, took a drag off his cigarette and politely exhaled off to the side. "Young men should still be living with their parents, I think. My own son left a few years ago, twenty-two. Too early, I said, but he wouldn't listen."

Twenty-two—that was old, Ed thought. "My mother was eighteen when she had me," he said. "I guess it depends on where you live."

"Hmm," said Albert, raising his eyebrows and exhaling a small, perfect ring of smoke. He grinned. "My son, though, he isn't as mature as you. I guess it all does depend."

Ed blinked—let a beat pass, then knocked the side of his head with his hand. "Me, mature? I'm still living off money from my old man. I'm a kid at heart!"

"Some of us always are."

Albert knocked a bit of ash from his cigarette, Ed took a bite of his eggs, and they sat in silence for a while. The rain picked up and the wind was beginning to rattle the windows, and setting the door-bell to chiming. Albert sighed, pulled a face and rose himself up, groaning and catching his back. "Better fix that and see to the customers," he said. "Take care of yourself, Edward."

"You too," Ed said, saluting him with a forkful of egg. When Albert had turned away, he put it back onto his plate and grimaced. The tea was weak and the eggs always tasted weird—almost stale, go figure, since Ed had no idea how to make them taste stale. Leave it to a pub. Even their beer was bad. He came here more for the atmosphere than for the food, but Albert—more fatherly than Hohenhime ever was—always insisted he eat. Said he looked too thin. 'Your face is too white,' he said.

Ed sighed, put his chin in one hand and toyed with his food with the other. 'You need a plan'—he and his father had parted ways over two months ago, but Hohenhime's sharp words had stayed with him, since Hohenhime almost never offered advice. They weren't really a father and son; more acquaintances, and acquaintances rarely offered personal advice. Hohenhime hated it. Anyways, his personal advice sucked—get a plan? Of course Ed needed a plan. It was hard to make plans, though, when you found yourself transported to a whole different world, with no real way of getting back. He *had* his plans, just no means of instituting them—that was his problem.

The door chimed, and Ed looked up as a high female voice greeted Albert. He recognized this girl; she came in as often as he did, and was just as friendly with Albert. She was a young schoolgirl; plain-looking, with brown hair done into two neat plaits and a plain gray school uniform, but her face lit when she smiled and she had, from what Ed could tell, a decent sense of humor. She swung into a seat at the bar and leaned on her elbows as she talked to Albert.

"—and then he told me, you know, that he wasn't sure he could go to school—"

Edward hadn't taken notice of her, of course, until the day she had first mentioned Alphonse. He stirred his tea again and listened wistfully. The way she spoke about him—it reminded him, sometimes, of his Alphonse. Hers was in school, too, and already worrying about university; they'd started dating a few years ago, from what Ed could tell; her Alphonse wanted to study history of science in school. It was new, his not being sure about going. His hands always twitched to know what he looked like—Ed imagined he looked a bit like this girl, plain, brown-haired and pale-skinned, a bit too skinny, too nondescript to be noticed. He was young, Ed thought, to be so involved with this girl, who spoke sometimes about wanting children.

"Well," he heard Albert say, "I know it isn't what you want to hear, Marie, but he should be worried."

The corners of Marie's lips went down, and she took a sip of tea. She had very nice hands, with slim fingers and long nails. "I know," she said quietly. "I just wish he had the chance."

Albert touched her hand; Ed looked away, shifting his eyes to the window. Someone was taking a break to lean against the side of the building, one gloved hand lifted, cigarette leaking smoke that melted into the rain. These people smoked like mad.

If it didn't rain so often, Ed thought, he might feel a little more like he could make plans. He'd always liked looking up at the sky and sun when he decided what to do; but he hardly ever saw the sun here, and he felt silly asking clouds what the hell he should do.

"Alphonse is coming by here, actually," Marie said, "later today. He's fond of your beer."

Ed shoved his plate away and stood up, pocketing some of the little packets of salt for his apartment, leaving a few coins on the table for his tab. "Be seeing you, Albert," he said at the door.

"Oh, Edward, are you leaving?" Albert looked worried. "Be careful, now. I hear storms are coming."

Ed lifted up the collar of his jacket and tucked his right hand into his pocket. "Yup," he said; "seems that way," and stepped out onto the streets.


Alphonse gave the newspaper one last read-through, then sighed, balled it up and tossed it onto the table. "Prices gone up again, talks breaking down, and more shootings. Does anything *good* ever get into the papers?"

"Never, it's a rule," said his mother, pursing her lips as she scanned the headlines. "Ah, dear, I thought with the treaty we would be done with this business." She slid over a plate of toast to him. "Eat, Alphonse."

"Yeah, but," Al rolled back his sleeves and picked up a piece of toast, shaking excess jam from it, "you said yourself, you didn't think it would be over so easily. And with less aid—I guess university really is out for me now."

"Don't worry about it," she said firmly. "And drink your tea. You're still growing."

"Since when does tea help me grow?" Al couldn't help but smile as he sipped his tea; sugar had been short lately, but his mother had given him a bit more than his usual rations these days. The sweetness on his tongue was wonderful. "Thank you, Mother."

"Yes, well, let's talk about something else now, shall we? When are you going to go meet Marie?"

"Soon. I mean, hopefully after the rain dies down." Alphonse glanced out the window; from here, he couldn't get a good glimpse of the rain coming down, but the windows and the roof rattled with its torrential downpour. "Although I guess that probably won't happen anytime soon."

His mother narrowed her grey eyes as she, too, looked at the window. She stirred a smidgen of sugar into her tea, sipped, and set her cup back down, splaying her fingers gracefully across its rim. "Oh, dear, I suppose that means you'll have to walk in it, yes? Do take an umbrella. You were soaked last time when you thought you wouldn't need it."

"Mother." Al smiled and shook his head. "Stop worrying, would you?"

She raised her eyebrows, which had turned the same color as her eyes in the last few months. "Now," she said mildly, "isn't that a case of the pot calling the kettle black."

"I know. I know. It's just... hard not to worry about, you know? So many troubles, and I can't help but be selfish and think of what it's going to do to my life." Al knocked back a long gulp of tea, draining the rest of his cup; then shook the dregs and looked into the cup to check their patterns. His Russian grandmother had taught him, years ago, what they meant, but he could only remember certain patterns. This one, he thought, looked a bit like a snake. "That's life, I guess."

"Yes," his mother said, shaking her cup, as well. She never told Alphonse what she saw written in her dregs, but her lips thinned. "That is life, indeed."

His mother looked out the window again, face tense, and Al jiggled his cup in silence. He didn't know what she thought of when she made that face, but Al thought of his father, killed in the Great War—and a more recent loss, Al's friend, the two of them grown up together since childhood. He'd been killed a few months before the treaty with England, Edward had. At least he had died in Belfast, his favorite city, and not far away in some foreign country—as Alphonse planned to, if he attended university; he had been looking at Cambridge, Oxford, at any place but here. He took a deep breath and released it slowly. It was still hard to comprehend; he still listened, sometimes, for the sound of Edward troping noisily through his house and calling for Al to come see the latest headlines. He had been accepted into Oxford, too.

He blinked himself back to the present—away from the sound of Edward's voice and the beam of his smile—and saw his mother looking at him, a sad smile on her face. She reached out and set her hand on top of Al's. "Dear," she said, "go and see Marie. You need a break from all this—you read the newspapers too much."

Marie. Al nodded; he did want to see her, all of a sudden. Her happy chatter could always distract him. He'd met her shortly after Edward had died; she worked the same hospitals Edward had, and had just as giving a heart. "I think I will," he said, standing and gathering up his and his mother's teacups. "Where's the umbrella? Still in the foyer, or did you move it?"

"Still there." His mother patted his back as he moved past her. "Have fun, Alphonse," she called as he left the tea room.

Alphonse ran upstairs to his bedroom, where he gathered his coat—his father's old peacoat, from the last war—and pulled on some gloves, and checked in the mirror to make sure his face and teeth were clean. Inserted into the frame was a picture of Edward and him at Christmas, two years back; he paused over it, then took it out and slid it into his coat pocket. He wasn't even sure why. Shaking his head, he pounded back downstairs and outside, scooping up his umbrella on the way.

The rain was worse than he'd thought, coming down harder, almost painful on his skin, and being driven by strong, gusty winds that were strange for this time of year. Al had to struggle to keep his umbrella upright and shielding him. He fished a piece of paper from his pocket, skimmed over the latest note Marie had written him, and clicked his tongue; her handwriting was terrible, but he thought he got what the note said. He folded it back into his pocket, kept one hand there and the other on the umbrella.

The city smelled like dust; Al slipped his hand back out of his pocket and held it under his nose to stall a sneeze. He paused for a second to rub at his nose and cough as the wind kicked up a particularly strong scent of sawdust—it was hellish, lately, for people with allergies as bad as his.

Someone bumped into him, knocking him off balance, and Alphonse stumbled into a puddle. "Oh, sorry," said the person as Al swore quietly and shook out the hems of his sopping pants. "Really sorry about that. I got distracted."

"No problem," Al said, sighing. Across from him, abruptly, the silence from the other person was deafening, and Al looked up from his pants to see if they were all right. His eyes widened; he opened his mouth, closed it, opened it again. "Edward—?" he said; blinked, shook his head and looked again.

Bright gold eyes stared at him, clear as the last day Alphonse had seen him. But sopping wet, hair plastered around his face and shoulders hunched in—shock? recognition?—he looked a bit like a caged animal, in a way Edward never had.

"Edward?" Alphonse repeated.

When he blinked again, the person shook himself and pulled up his collar around his face, bronze eyes narrowing. "Sorry?" he said, turning away from Al. "You've got the wrong person, I don't know what you're talking about."

But—Al bit down on his lip. "Oh," he said faintly. "I'm—terribly sorry. Please do forgive me, it's just that you look so much like a—a good friend of mine."

The person took a step away from Al; then paused, and turned back to him. "I see," he said. God, even his voice sounded the same. "How strange, huh? You'll have to tell your buddy about it when you see him."

Al forced a smile. "I wish I could. He's dead.—I'm sorry again, um. What's your name?"

"What a coincidence. My name's Edward, too."

"Oh," Al said again. Could it be—they looked *too much alike*—"Well, I'm terribly sorry to have bothered you, Edward. Please stay safe."

Edward stared at him for a bit longer, then nodded and turned away, this time for good. He hurried off quickly, moving faster than a person his size had any right to, and in only a few moments' time had disappeared into the crowd of fast-moving people.

Al stayed where he was for what seemed like a long time, before shaking himself and realizing that he was soaked; he had dropped his umbrella. He raised it again, even though by now it was too late, and turned himself in the general direction of Marie's pub. His legs felt frozen, his body numb.

Could it be? They had never found his—Edward's body; too badly burned, the doctors had explained gently, for them to find any real remains, but he had undoubtedly been there. They'd found some of clothes a bit farther away, and his favorite pocket-watch had survived the blast, albeit melted into a flat sheet of gold. Al had thought about asking for it before realizing it would be too terrible to look at. But point was, they hadn't found his body and so, conceivably, Edward could have survived; could have been knocked out, perhaps, injured badly. Amnesia. Amnesia was caused by terrible injuries all the time.

Funny thing, though—that Edward, who looked so similar to his that, thinking on it, Al couldn't imagine it could be coincidence; he had seemed to recognize him, too. Why had he pretended otherwise?

His fingers were shaking, he realized; actually, his entire body was shaking, but not much he could do about it. He needed a warm drink, was what he needed. Clenching his hands into tight fists, he picked up his pace. Maybe with a drink and some time to consider all this, he'd come up with a more viable explanation than a survival against all odds and an amnesiac ghost from the past. People lost loved ones all the time; and none were lucky enough to get them back. Alphonse had stopped hoping for it long ago.


"Send this to Munich, please?" Edward counted a handful of pounds into the man's hands, and offered him a tiny smile at his thanks. He had stopped telegramming Hohenhime a while ago, since his father was as bad at keeping in touch as he'd ever been, but this was a bit more important than, 'Hi, how are you, how're your occult practices coming'—although his mother dying had been important, too, and Hohenhime hadn't seemed to care about that. Edward shook his shoulders, irritably. Hohenhime had *better* respond and help him out for once; he'd spent most of his money on this telegram.

The rain had slowed a little by the time Ed got back to his apartment, but he was still dripping when he stepped inside, over a pile of clothes, and closed the door behind him. He leaned against the wall, pressed his hand against his eyes and let out a long, careful sigh.

He had met this world's Alphonse—the last person, statistically, he should have ran into on the streets. Ed ran over the memory again, as he had dozens of times over the last hour, noting every last detail. His brother—*not* his brother, he reminded himself, you don't know this kid and he doesn't know you—was taller than he and stockier, although he was thinly and smoothly built. His hair was a darker blond than Edward remembered, his eyes a lighter grey. Then again, it'd been years and years since he had seen Alphonse's body. Was that what Al looked like, back in their world?

Unexpectedly, his eyes stung at the thought, and Edward pressed them shut. He hoped so. This place's Alphonse looked so healthy and, until he'd bumped into Ed, so *content,* even with worry-lines around his eyes. Like nothing bad had ever touched him, even though Ed knew it had to have. He looked like—like he hadn't had his entire life fucked up, Ed guessed, and his chances at happiness ruined.

Ed shivered, cold and wet. "Stupid," he muttered. "Stupid, to even think about it." He shouldn't want to know about this world's Alphonse, how his life had been, how he had grown up and what he wanted to do with his life—what his relationship with his Edward had been like. Ed had no *right.* He moved further into his apartment and nudged on the heat, then began stripping off his wet clothes. When he was naked, he fell onto his bed and pulled the covers up to his chin, closed his eyes.

That Alphonse had looked so normal, like a smile could come as easily to him as it had come to Edward's Al, before their mother had died and Ed had ruined everything. But... he had looked so sad, too. Al should never be unhappy.

He was beginning to doze off—the heat seeped quickly into his apartment, since it was so small—when a crack of thunder shook the building, and lightning lit up the windows. Ed jerked out of sleep and out of bed; jerked forward and knocked his head against the wall when another rumble came. "Fuck!" He rubbed his temple, then rolled out of bed and padded over to the closest window.

Well, that would explain the noise. That wasn't lightning or thunder. Ed ducked down, setting his back to the wall as another blast lit the city. "Fuck," he repeated quietly. The IRA again.

A thread of worry curled through his stomach. He hoped Alphonse was okay, had gotten to a safe spot.

The building rolled a few times, and the air went shrill with the sounds of bomber places crossing the sky. Ed waited, hunched under his window, for more bombing, but the only sounds in the city were distant screams and the wails of sirens. Ed crouched on his knees and pulled up the blinds from his window, and caught his lip on a breath: the skyline had gone dark, highlighted with the peaks of flames and all of it filmed over with a layer of dust, settling down on the people on the streets—some of them lying on the ground, he could see, maybe dead; others beginning to stand up and look around, dazed.

Edward knew how they felt: he had died here once, after all, and could remember the heat, the pressure, the feel of skin flaying from his bones—the terrible feeling that he was *dissolving.* He shook his shoulders and arm, telling himself through the sheer feel of flesh that yes, he was here, he was alive. The people below were touching their faces, looking up at the sky. Edward ran his tongue over his teeth and put his hand to his chest, feeling the sweet, reassuring thump of his heartbeat.

Alive, he reminded himself; this world's Edward wasn't, but he was. He was alive and going to get back to Amestris. Away from these screams and the scent of blood mixed with dust, and the people who below him were walking around dazedly, caught between life and death.

Edward stood, breaths beginning to slow to normal, and looked around before pulling his coat back on and throwing open the door to his apartment. It wasn't his business, he told himself, and this Alphonse might not appreciate seeing him again—but he had to know, couldn't bear *not* knowing if Al was okay. It came with the territory of being big brother, which was never going to go away. "Hey, Mr. Yarby," he said, pausing to speak to one of his neighbors who was standing in the hallway in an old bathrobe, holding a cup of coffee. "You okay?"

"Oh," said Mr. Yarby, slowly. He looked down at himself, seemed to recognize how he was dressed, pulled his robe closed. "Yes—yes, I'm okay. Seems we were lucky today."

"Today, at least." Edward itched to brush past him and go downstairs, but something in the old man's eyes held him still. "Uh," he said, leaning closer, "are you *sure* you're okay? You didn't hit your head, did you?"

"Did I?" Mr. Yarby just stared at him.

Whoa, this old man was *gone.* "Okay, Mr. Yarby." Ed took his elbow and turned him into his apartment, gently pushing him through the door. He looked around, spotted a couch and guided the old man to it, then pushed him down into the cushions. "Okay," he said, and looked around for something distracting, clicking his tongue against his teeth. A radio was on the windowsill; Ed grabbed it, cranked up the volume, and dumped it onto the couch. "Now don't go anywhere, you hear? Just sit here and take some breaths. We're all fine."

"Are we, Edward?" Mr. Yarby's eyes looked so lost, even as his fingers curled around the radio.

"Of course." Ed pulled up a smile and touched his good hand to Mr. Yarby's. "See? You're touching me, I'm right here. As long as we haven't bitten the big one, we might as well enjoy it, right? Now." He fiddled once more with the volume knob, then patted Yarby's shoulder and backed away. "I'm going out, but I'll be back. You just—uh, listen to the news. Or the weather, if they're playing it. I'll see you, Mr. Yarby." At the door, he waited for the old man to say something, even to ask if Ed had drunk all the tea he'd given him; but there he sat, still and silent, and didn't even seem to notice that Edward had gone. Quietly, Edward shut the door.

Outside was as chaotic as he'd expected, only worse because now he was *here.* He wanted to stop and help every person he saw wandering dazedly down the street, blood on their foreheads or hands, eyes blinking rapidly; every person who lay on the ground, either unwilling or unable to get up. He couldn't, though, and so Edward pulled up his hood, shoved his hands into his pockets and moved down the streets quickly, trying not to hear anything as he picked his way through people, rubble, bits of building, concrete, mud from the rain now coated with dust.

It occurred him that he didn't know *where,* precisely, Alphonse was; but Marie had said he was headed to Albert's bar, and he'd been turned in that direction, so Ed just hoped he hadn't changed his plans and began to walk towards Albert's bar, which was a few miles down and hopefully away from most of the destruction.

As he turned the corner to the bar, Ed's heart sank. This area had gotten most of the blast; the pub wasn't gone, but its ceiling had caved in one side and on the other was sagging precariously under the weight of several metal beams. The air smelled like smoke, although he didn't see any fires. His footsteps stuttered to a halt. He heard crying. Moaning.

God.

"Excuse me," and Ed blinked himself out of his stupor, turned to see who had addressed him. His mouth opened, but before he could say anything the woman said, "Could you take something for me, please? It's very important."

She was a young woman, not all that older than Ed, blond hair so coated with dust it almost looked silver. She held out a small brown package with one arm. Stupidly, Ed held out his good arm and, when she handed the package to him, cradled it against his chest. It was spattered with blood.

"Thank you," said the woman, who was still standing in front of him. Ed stared at her, and they held each other's eyes for a long moment, neither speaking—then she turned and began to pick her way unsteadily through the rubble.

He turned away before he could see her fall. He looked up and around him, at the smoke rising from the rubble, at the spatters of blood on the ground, at a woman who was sitting on the sidewalk weeping. He wasn't sure what he should feel, but he felt—tired. And so he sat down, setting the package beside him, and wrapped his arm around his knees—like the Ishbalian refugees he had seen once, sitting by the side of the road as their deportation truck loaded their brothers and sisters into the back. He had commented to Roy that they looked—almost bored, he thought, and Roy had just shrugged. "What should they look like, Fullmetal?" he said.

"Angry!" Ed had responded.

No one around him looked angry; no one looked even frightened. Ed rested his chin on his knees and closed his eyes.

"Edward, right?"

He looked up to see Alphonse, hands in his pockets, dusted with rubble but otherwise fine, except for a bruise darkening his cheekbone. He gestured to the spot beside Ed, and when Ed blinked dumbly, sat down in it, stretching out his legs and catching himself with his arms. "I'm glad to see you're all right," Alphonse said.

Ed recovered his voice and, with it, a bit of his fire. "Why's that? All I did was bump into you. We don't even know each other." He wondered if that last part had been a bit too deliberate; but Alphonse didn't look too concerned.

"Still, it'd be strange if someone I'd just met died a few minutes later, wouldn't it? I would feel...."

"Sad?" Ed supplied when Alphonse trailed off.

"Yes," Al said, leaning forward to pick at his shoes. "It would make me really sad."

He looked just like Ed's Alphonse; spoke just like him; and had his sentiment, apparently. Al was always sad when people fought or got hurt, even people he didn't know. "Well," Edward said, "I'm glad you didn't kick the bucket, either."

Al's lips quirked quickly, before he smoothed down the expression. "What a graceful way of putting it."

"That's me, graceful to a tee."

The high cry of a siren cut through the air, and Al's face sobered, head tilted to listen to it. His eyes lit on Edward's package. "Were you going to the post?" he asked, nodding at it. "It got bombed, I'm afraid."

Ed lifted it up, put it to his ear, shook it. Something inside bounced against the corners, something heavy and solid-sounding. "It's not mine. Someone—needed me to deliver it, as a favor." He tossed it back onto the concrete. "Post office got destroyed, eh? Guess I'll just have to deliver it personally."

Al raised his eyebrows, their slim goldness turning it into a haughty look that didn't sit well with his face. "London is a fair ways away to be delivering it yourself. You know, on another continent."

"I'm used to walking," Ed said, winking.

Alphonse smiled, a reluctant twist of the lips, and wrapped his arms around his knees, mirroring Edward's position; his eyes went back to the horizon, still painted red from fire and hazy with dust. "I'm sorry," he said. "You must think I'm awfully odd to be talking with you like this, but it's just—"

"It's been a weird day." Leave it to Alphonse to apologize for being friendly.

"It's not just that," Al said quietly. "I told you, you look an awful lot like my friend. It's very... strange, to see you sitting here. I suppose I just couldn't help myself."

Edward tried to keep his trap shut, he really did, but the words just fell out of his mouth—he regretted them immediately. "You remind me of someone, too."

Al looked at him quickly, then back at the horizon as if Ed hadn't said anything strange at all; but his eyes had narrowed, lips thinned. He rubbed his chin with one hand. "I see. Who would that be?"

"Uh. Just someone."

"Oh. Where you from?" Alphonse asked abruptly, still not looking at him.

Ed's lips quirked; he wanted to tell Alphonse the truth, and see what he would say. 'Well, I'm from a different world, where I used to be a military officer. We have alchemy there, that is, a form of science completely different from anything you have here, and we can fuse two species together, connect the soul of a person to an inanimate object, and resurrect people as homunculi.' He twisted his fingers together and said, instead, "Belfast. Although I've traveled, a little."

"Really? Where to?"

"Well, Munich, a couple of months ago."

"And what were you doing before that?"

Ed stared at him, silent, and Al looked back with a guileless expression that didn't fool Ed at all. "Where exactly," Edward said, "are you going with this? Are you always this nosy with total strangers? Or," he said when Al looked away, "you don't think we're total strangers. Do you."

"I don't know what I think." Al looked down at his clasped hands, twiddling his thumbs together. He sighed and pressed his hands to his forehead. "You just look *so much* like him. We never found his body, you know."

Somewhere in the distance, a boom sounded; the sound of collapsing steel. Ed watched Alphonse out of the corner of his eye, watching the way his eyebrows drew together, the only outward sign of his distress. He could say something that Alphonse wanted to hear; that he didn't remember his life up till a few months ago; that he had woken up one day in London, dazed and confused. In a way it *wouldn't* be a lie—he had lived in this world's Edward's body for a time, after all, seen the world through his eyes, lived in his unfamiliar limbs, taller than he and ganglier.

It would be so easy, and he could be near Alphonse.

But Edward had done the easier thing before, all those years before, and look where it had gotten his little brother. It wouldn't just be unfair to this Alphonse; it would be unfair to the brother whose life he had ruined, whose body he had taken.

"It's weird that we look so alike," Edward said, "but I'm not your friend. I was born a little south of here, and I didn't move to Belfast until I was twelve. My mother died when I was eleven, my father's always been gone. I served in... the military for a short time, before they found out I lied about my age and kicked me out." He smiled and scruffed a hand through his bangs. He wished they'd kicked him out. "I have a brother whom I'm separated from, and I'm trying to find him again. Does that sound like your Edward?"

"No," muttered Alphonse. He didn't say anything for a bit, but from the tilt of his mouth Ed knew he wanted to say more, and waited quietly. Then: "He and I were raised together," and there was so much hurt in that voice it made Edward's fingers curl. "We knew each other since we were... God, small children. We went to school together, slept over at each other's houses, left school together... picked university together. He was Protestant, you know, but we were so close it didn't matter. And then, one day, just like that—I stopped hearing his voice, he stopped coming to my house; there was a funeral, but it felt so strange, so unreal. I never knew how... *unfinal* death is until that day."

"I'm sorry," said Edward. It was all he could say.

Alphonse shook his head, a small, sad smile lifting up his lips. "No, I'm sorry," he said, standing abruptly and thrusting one hand into a pocket; the other he held out to Ed. "For telling you all this, when I hardly know you. It was kind of you to humor me."

Ed took his hand and closed his fingers around it: it was slightly larger than his, with slender, slim fingers and blunt nails, and warm skin. He let go quickly, or else he'd never let go. "No problem."

"Well," said Alphonse, shoving his hands deep in his pockets. His smile quirked. "Maybe we'll see each other again, Edward....?"

"Elric," Edward said, and could have bit his tongue when Al's eyes widened; but Al didn't say anything, just nodded slowly.

"Well, Edward Elric. I'm Alphonse Yuzhenov. It's Russian," he added, grinning at Ed's look. "I hope we *do* see each other again."

Ed thought, sentimentally, that he would be able to keep Alphonse in his sights for a long time, but he disappeared quickly into the smoke and soon even his footsteps faded. Edward stayed where he was, arm folded around his knee and staring off at the place where Al had disappeared from his sight.

That night it rained; and in the morning, the dust and smoke from the fires were washed away, and the city smelled clean and cool.


The surroundings of home, centers, neighorhood
which I see and where I walk; for years and years.

I have created you in joy and in sorrows:
with so many circumstances, with so many things.

And you have become all feeling, for me.
—-In the Same Space, C.P. Cavafy