Twelve Years

Four-thousand, three-hundred, and eighty days ago. Twelve years, or a single dozen. Interesting number, Ed thinks as he flips the pages of his tome. A one and a two. A dental, semi-glide, vowel, liquid, fricative, and another vowel. Six letters for a number of apostles, the amount of months in a year, and, as any good alchemist knows, the atomic number of magnesium.

Soon, it will have been twelve years. He will visit her grave tomorrow, and he will bring a present. Flowers would be more practical, and he knows this, but...well, Edward Elric was never exactly practical in his displays. His arm and leg say as much as he goes about his work, snapping pencils with an automail thumb and forefinger. People around him can probably hear—probably think he's going mad—and that's fine and well. They thought the same of his old man.

Ed continues snapping the pencils, dropping one after the next into the cluttered pile in the centre of the array, and all the while, he chuckles to himself. He hated the old man, but on Earth, he learned how it was to be seen as eccentric, aloof, peculiar. In retrospect, he can see much of his father in himself, and he wonders if he will someday view the world behind a pair of glasses, and he wonders if they will cloud come the snowfall. He would not ponder such things, not even knowing the truths he's gleaned from the years, but today is her day, and he cannot help but reminisce upon all the people she touched throughout her life.

His shoulder is beginning to hurt. He's stooped, awkward, on one knee, and when Al arrives, Ed knows he's going to tell him to fix his posture so the automail will be as easy on him as possible. A few candles are lit, and books are open, pages fluttering in the draft; Ed makes a little mental reminder to check the insulation and get everything fixed. Al will tease his brother, say he needs a feminine touch, but both of them know how hollow such japes are. Neither is having any luck finding romance, letting others into their hearts, though this is not because they are callous, nor because they put forth any effort to distance themselves from the world.

Edward grew up in a broken home, jaded thoroughly by his father's absence; he mostly lived with Winry and Pinako, but he never had the influence of a mother and father. Shigu and Izumi were the closest he had to parents, but even that just wasn't quite the same. Edward Elric, highly desired State Alchemist, never considered relationships, not with the paucity of successful ones he had witnessed and understood. She might've been able to teach me, he thinks, and breaks another pencil. But it's too late.

Children learn through their parents. Ed guesses he could better understand relationships if he had been around many of them; Hughes was a loving husband and father, and once, he might have had a lot to teach Edward. Instead, the genius alchemist is emotionally crippled; he can read complex chemical equations, yes, but he doesn't even know where to begin searching for love or reasoning it out. All facetious commentary would have him be with Winry, but she has the same problem; for the most part, they communicate well enough, since she sees the world as nuts and bolts and he sees it as compounds, elements, and numbers.

But that's not anything fit for a marriage, he tells himself, and more granite falls upon the floor. Life has been all right, mostly; Earth is dangerous, and Amestris is settled, and Alphonse has his body back. Some trials still exist, though what would life be if they did not? Ed still retains some cynicism; he's never denied that, but he grounds it with a healthy dose of optimism, and even after all he's lost, he prefers to think upon what he has—which is Alphonse, wonderful and whole. One life, or two lives, one in each world: old, new, and all things in between. So here he is, in his personal study, and the clock is ticking away toward midnight. The twelfth hour, and when it comes within some sparse minutes, it will signal twelve years' passing. Ed finishes with the pencils and claps, touching the ground.

Light fills the room, and the wind stirs. Pages flutter more rapidly. Ed thinks he can go to sleep as soon as this transmutation is finished. It's late, he's growing weary, and he wonders if his breath smells of alcohol. He drank too much earlier this evening, and he's still recovering; drunk enough now to be pensive and not much else. It's a bad feeling, and he'd drink more, drown the melancholy, but he fears excesses. Ever since that night with his brother and their failed transmutation, a small part of the otherwise bold alchemist has feared excesses. Just for her, though, he thinks as the alchemy finishes. And just for this one night.

Tonight, he will have one excess.

Trisha Elric—beloved mother.

So proclaim the words engraved upon the tombstone.

He stands before the seemingly accusatory grey stone, cupping the present in his flesh hand. For some reason, it never feels right to use his metal fingers when proffering such treasured gifts. The item is cold upon his palm, and Alphonse has called it pretty, but Ed wonders if perhaps Alphonse secretly disapproves. Cold and dead may not be such a good fit; maybe flowers would've been better, Ed thinks, but then Al is smiling softly and sadly and Ed thinks, no, I'm sure this was right; I'm sure he would want me to give what I had in mind.

Edward wishes he had not had to exhume her; that felt wrong, like sacrilege. When he and Alphonse wish to pay tribute to her memory, they always return here, but only because it is familiar; marked ground, a symbol of something, and the grave stands as a message that twelve years ago, something important happened in little Riesenburg. It is all they have, so here they stand, staring and remembering as the wind blows gently and the village goes about its life.

If the old man were still around, would he pay a visit to this place?

Ed wonders, but decides it's better not to ask such questions, even if no one hears them. The wind is sighing, singing, and Winry will be around shortly. She always comes to visit this grave, and one other.

Gently, Ed's foot brushes across the soft ground. Sometimes it is dry and hard-packed, but there was a rain last night, and the earth is soaked with moisture. Needles coat the wet, dark terrain, and the air smells of resin. Ed looks around, shuffling and digging his toes in deeper as the wind stirs his hair. Twelve years, he thinks, gazing at patches where once there grew flowers; now, he sees nothing but weeds. Twelve years, and a lifetime to go.

Very soon, he will need his automail fixed again. It is wearing down, growing too old, and little repairs aren't fixing the pain that causes him to limp here and there. Edward is glad for Winry, he always has been, but sometimes he still dreams of being whole. He closes his eyes and feels warmth, nerves, quiet strength, but when he opens them, there is nothing save for grasping metal. His fingers close into a fist, tightening over his palm as he squeezes and tries to hold the years, tries to keep them from drifting by on sluggish streams or pounding rivers.

Someday, perhaps a moment in time will stop, and Something Important will happen to Edward, and maybe that Something Important will be a kinder fate than the Something he met so many long years past. Until then, both worlds continue to spin, to rotate, and the passage of time goes on; there will be Alphonse, and Winry, and Edward's other loved ones, and sleepy days, alcohol and pages filled with scribbled writing working toward everything and nothing at all. For now, he has mastered one world, two worlds; they have mastered him as well, and he is tired.

He sets the gift down, fingertips playing over the cold surface. "Happy twelve years, Mom," he says, and kisses it lightly, murmuring and thinking and remembering and forgetting and wanting. A powerful moment, an Important moment, and then it is over, and Edward is pushing the stone into the ground. The tears do not come, only the hollowness, but he can imagine that he has wept long and hard; the soreness is there, the feeling of being empty. It seems a shame to cover a diamond with dirt, to bury something so precious, but she had been precious, and she was long beneath the soil.

Graphite into diamonds; a simple transmutation once one has learned how to alter the bonds of carbon. Edward once thought humans were only the sum of their parts, but now he is sure he knows better; it's a waste, he thinks. It's all a waste.

Yet, when his moment of personal grief has passed, when Al's hand is upon his shoulder and the breeze stills, when last night's alchemic labours are gone and buried, then Ed arises and brushes himself off. "I'm fine," he says with a shaky smile.

He knows it is the truth. Fine. Not great, maybe. No longer an object of worship. Just a man grown, a person with mundane obligations like those of any other, but he is alive, healthy, and he has a support system. His automail may or may not endure the years, but he will. A human is carbon-based, largely composed of the element, as Edward reminds himself, so while gold can be soft, nothing wears down a diamond.

"Let's go home, Al," says the elder brother, and the younger nods, slightly.

They walk together in silence, while beside them, the river runs, and years float away like flower petals carried on a current.