It's become common knowledge in the physics world that since they met at the lecture series in Gottingen, Niels Bohr has become fast friends with Werner Heisenberg, and it is expected that they will soon be collaborating at Bohr's home institution of Copenhagen.
Ed snorts and pushes the letter under a pile of other papers. In the world of theoretical physics—the kind Ed often feels is closest to what reminds him of alchemy—there is no better than Bohr, and had circumstances been different, Elric might be the new apprentice. After all, he was invited to the lecture series as well, only to be unable to attend thanks to someone stupid and careless, foolish and young, short-sighted and long-legged, and in a rage Ed balls up the top page of calculations and hurls it at the empty seat beside him.
"Fuck you, Al."
He sinks low in his seat, looking out the window and wondering if anywhere good to eat will still be open by the time he reaches Prague, and if he'll even be able to afford it. Ed doesn't have much money now that he's not employed by an army that pays for his research, and this world has a wicked mess called "exchange rates." The transition from Deustchmarks to the local currency has hit him hard several times, and not being able to feed his wallet or his generally excessive appetite does not make him less enraged about the task at hand.
His little brother should have stayed at home.
His thoughtless brat of a sibling should have considered what he was doing and not run out the door like a five year old wanting attention.
Ed is angry, and as the train pulls into the station, he briefly considers staying on the train and waiting for it to head back home.
He gets off anyway, and people clear out of his path.
Al has been in Prague, he is certain, but he's gone now, and the day ends with Ed climbing onto another train and scanning the map. He'll go on to Vienna, then circle back around through Munich to check on Noa before trying other major cities.
This is a fucking pain, he thinks, tossing the map aside and slouching in the seat. If only Al wasn't so short-sighted and petty. Alfons was never so irrational, and at least when he was irritated with Ed he didn't run away and wait for his brother to come find him.
...not that he was Alfons' brother, though, he has to correct himself. He hates it when he confuses the two of them, like that day he called Al by the dead boy's name and he'd looked so...shattered. He wanted to chalk it up to just another awkward moment in a string of them since they'd been reunited, but that was when he'd first started to think something might be going horribly wrong between them.
What was he thinking? Clearly something had gone horribly wrong, or he wouldn't be chasing his moronic relation across a continent neither of them knows.
His irritation firmly back in place, Ed forces himself to his feet, and makes his way to the dinner car.
"He's about my height, maybe a little taller. He has dark hair and kind of brown..."
The man Ed is speaking to is already shaking his head, and Ed stops before finishing his sentence.
"Well thanks for your time."
Another day, another country, another round of inquiring after Al's whereabouts, and all for nothing. He almost wishes he'd kept the damn red coat so at least he'd have some kind of distinctive characteristic to mention to people. Someone would remember that coat, with the black flamel, a symbol he's not likely to ever see again...
He sighs, and sets down his suitcase, sitting on top of his and scuffing his flesh hand through his bangs.
If he were Al, where would he be?
He snorts—that's stupid, he never would have left Ed's side, of course. Ed may not have lived in Germany long, but at least he knew where things in town were. Al got lost going grocery shopping in Munich, and now Ed is tracing him to Vienna? It's idiotic, and it makes him grumpy.
Sitting with his map of the city, he calculates how close he is to the university. Erwin Schrodinger is there, and his paradox of the cat in the box is one of the first things Ed taught Al when they were reunited. Al hadn't liked the idea of a cat perpetually suspended between life and death, of course, but he'd smiled and taken notes all the same.
It was so...hollow, the last time he saw it. Unfeeling. Forced. Sick.
And when he realizes that last part, he nearly trips over his suitcase in his haste.
The train back to Munich takes an entire night, but Ed is too wired to sleep, tossing and turning on his bunk in the sleeper car. Once, he and Alfons had shared one of these miniature beds, and spent the next day barely talking to one another in annoyance at each other's sleeping habits. From then on, if they were going to sleep on a train, they did it in shifts.
But at this moment, what he wouldn't give to not be alone in this miserable bed.
Ed sighs and rolls onto his stomach, pressing his face into the pillow. He shouldn't think of things like that, especially not now, when it's more than likely he's made such an incredibly stupid mistake in judgement. Of course Al looked terrible the last time they were together, he was sick. And there had been that time when he'd started coughing just like...
And if he goes home and finds out Al has been at home and in a hospital all this time...
He curls into a ball and stares at the wood paneling that sways faintly in the dark with the motion of the train, and he's not sure at that moment who he's looking for.
Noa's face lights up when he enters the apartment, but he barely has time to see it before he stomps past her and into the room Al had been using, intent on tearing it apart.
His little brother was not in the hospital, not in any infirmary in Munich, nor has he come home, and Ed is furious to think he might have to backtrack and check the hospitals in Dresden and Prague. How could he have failed to think of that? He was always so aware of Alfons' illness, even when he seemed all right, why didn't he notice Al's?
But Al has run away to be sick somewhere else, and Ed is determined to find some clue, something left behind that will help him so he's not blindly following a random path.
The Roma woman stands in the doorway as Ed flings things off the shelves, sorting through papers, ducking down to look under the bed...
"Wasn't there," she starts softly, "A book of maps on that shelf before? An atlas?"
Ed looks up at where she's pointing, and jumps to his feet.
"Yeah, there was." he folds his arms and stares at the spot, thoughts turning in his head, back to Al, back to the last time they spoke...
"Sometimes, I want to see Winry again. Or Auntie Pinako. Or the Colonel."
"...he's looking for them."
"Hmm?" Noa has taken to straightening the papers on the floor.
Again, something entirely obvious had entirely escaped him. Al was physically unwell, but in his own words, he was homesick as well. Al is looking for alters of familiar people to be with, to take care of him. It's now a matter of figuring out on his own where these people might be, and getting there before his little brother.
"I need to go buy an—"
A picture flutters from the pile of papers Noa has collected. It's a grainy photo of Alfons and the friends he worked on rocketry with.
Before she can bend down to pick it up, Ed has snatched it from the floor and is bounding out the door again.
The American scientist Robert A. Millikan has won this year's Nobel Prize for physics, "for his work," says the article, "on the elementary charge of electricity and on the photoelectric effect."
Ed is intrigued by this, as he'd thought the best scientists in the world were close to him in Germany, but it occurs to him that perhaps one day he should travel to America and inspect their programs for himself.
It also occurs to him that reading on a rocking ship is not the best idea, and he sets down the paper to walk around the deck and try to feel less nauseous.
When wind clears the thick fog, he can see the white cliffs of the English coast ahead of him, and his heart jumps. The man from whom he bought his ferry ticket had recognized the photo, and now he knows he's on the right track.
England seems like a likely place to meet someone like Mustang or maybe Hawkeye, and maybe, if he's lucky... someone like Winry.
Elementary charges, electrons chasing protons, brother chasing brother, and the cliffs get closer.
"Hmm...someone that looked a bit like that, yeah. About a month ago"
Ed practically chokes on his tea and scrabbles for a napkin.
This is the best news he's heard since he arrived in London, which seems to be nothing but cold, wet, and utterly covered in fog at all times of the day. He's checked no less than four hospitals and found no leads there, so this woman in a café near Trafalgar Square is what non-atheists might call a godsend.
"Sort of. He was younger, though, definitely. Darker hair, too."
"Well, this isn't him, this is...his...brother."
"I thought you were his brother."
"I am, I just...we're all brothers, okay? Is that so hard?"
"No," she looks at the picture thoughtfully, then hands it back. "But why wouldn't you show an actual picture of the boy you're looking for, instead of just someone who looks like him?"
"I don't...have any pictures of him." The words are much more sullen than he'd meant them to sound, and he looks at Alfons' smile with more than a touch of something...off inside. "He...this is the best I can do."
The woman nods, and goes back to waitressing.
"This is the best I can do." Ed repeats softly to himself, and isn't sure what that means.
It comes to him in the dark, like so many terrible revelations, amidst the clicking tracks and muted voices rolling over syllables he doesn't recognize.
He's been staring out the window of the midnight French countryside on the way to Paris, mulling over Schrodinger's cat, and suddenly he's struck by the resonance it has in his own life. Two boys with the same name and the same face, alive and dead simultaneously.
And he pulls out the picture of Alfons—-it's getting bent now, the more he pulls it out and puts it away—and the British woman's words come back.
He's been getting them confused again, he realizes, but wait, it's not recent, they've always been tangled together in his mind. The first time he met Alfons, he was drawn to him because of his resemblance to Al. Alfons has been a way to hold onto his lost sibling, to see him even when he couldn't see him, and then things changed, and his own Al was right in front of him, Alfons dead behind him, and everything swirled together like murky water going down the drain.
Ed had never entirely forgiven Alfons for not being Al, and then he had been unable to forgive Al for not being Alfons. He wanted them to be the same, he wanted both, and yet...
Would he have ever taken up with Alfons Heiderich if he hadn't looked like Alphonse Elric?
Two boys, two faces, two fates, alive and dead at the same time, at different times, nothing in common, everything in common, one thing in common: him.
Who is he looking for?
Paris just smells delicious, and he'd love to stop and eat, but the growing ache in his chest forces him away from the pastry shops and to hospitals one, two, and three, and none of them are helpful, no one has seen Al, and he is just about to give up when he sees her.
At first he thinks he's hallucinating from hunger, but he takes a few steps closer and there she is, a blond girl in a jumpsuit, standing in front of a mechanic's shop wiping oil off her hands and talking to someone in lively French. He stands back for a few minutes, and when he hears "Je m'appelle Gwendolyn, mais tu peux m'appeler Winry" he doesn't need to know the language to understand; he can almost feel tears coming on.
When the other person leaves, he walks up to her on unsure legs, and sets down his suitcase.
"Eh, oui?" She looks at him with what seems to be a vague sense of recognition.
"My name is Ed. Edward Elric."
"Elric." She tries the name out, then claps her hands and lets out a rapid stream of French.
"Er..." Ed cocks his head to the side. "Do you...English?"
"Ah, yes, excuse moi...You, er...you are the brother of...Alphonse?"
Ed wants to kiss her, and he's not sure if it's because he's actually hearing Winry's beautiful voice again, the intonations hardly changed despite the differences in language, time, place, or because she knows where Al is.
"Yes. Yes! You know him?" He fumbles in his pockets for the photo, just to make sure, just to confirm, but he comes up empty—it must have fallen out. "I've been looking all over for him, I need to know where he is, can you tell me—"
"Pardonne moi, monsi-Edward, I am sorry, but, your brother he..."she stops to think of the words. "He is died."
Everything around them suddenly falls silent. He hears nothing but her words.
"He was, er, very sick, when I meet him. He is died, not long after. A few week ago, perhaps one month."
"Oui. I am sorry."
It takes several tries before Ed can get his voice to work, and when it does, it comes out as a cracking squeak.
"Yeah. So am I."
His suitcase has fallen open, his papers, his books, his clothes spilling out into the road, and he doesn't care.
It's started to rain, and his overcoat is soaked, his hair plastered to his forehead, his right shoulder aching, and he doesn't care.
There's a hole in the world, one that none of the scientists whose notes are disappearing into puddles behind him can fix, and for all his illusions of being one of them, being great, none of them can help him now.
Edward Elric's mother died a long time ago.
His father is dead, too.
His only friend in this whole world is gone.
And now the last person he had, his only link to his own place and his own past, the last person he could ever love...
The name is heavy in his throat, thick and choking, and he says it with the right accent now, the right Alphonse, his own Alphonse...
And this time the blame lies solely on his wilted shoulders, and he knows it. If he hadn't been so slow. If he hadn't wasted time chasing false leads. If he hadn't waited for Al to come home on his own. If he hadn't been thoughtless. If he hadn't been selfish. If he hadn't realized that everything he'd ever looked for was already right there.
He'd just hidden in his notes, fantasizing about having his name with Einstein, with Bohr, with anyone, because he'd thought that was all he had. In a world without alchemy, a world where hardly anyone knew him and fewer loved him, what else was left?
False pretenses, all of them. In his own world he'd wanted to be great so he'd have the resources to help Al. And now, in this world, he'd been too preoccupied with his own pride, too caught up in a quest that was already over to see that Al still needed his help, but for something else this time.
And he just kept looking backwards.
Why couldn't he see who was with him?
Five years looking for Al's body, two more looking for a way back to him, and this miserable trek across Europe... all he's ever looked for is Al, he realizes too late, too late, a thousand times too late, because in his negligence Al got sick, and Al ran away, and Al died.
He ruins everything.
Two boys, two faces, the same name, and now the paradox is solved because he is the isotope that has decayed—-in body and soul and everything, everything—and he has killed them both. And now he is alone.
Ed has a new destination tonight.
Severely drunk is a place he has never been, but once he gets there, he imagines he won't be leaving for a very long time.