Fullmetal Alchemist Fan Fiction ❯ Underneath it All ❯ Insight ( Chapter 10 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

As they made their way out of the park and back into the city, they started talking. Roy could tell that the blond was in a conversational mood, and he would settle for anything that would take his mind off his recent revelation.
“We've known each other for- how long now Roy? Eleven years?”
“Yeah, something like that.”
“Don't you find it odd that it's been in only the last few months that we've actually really gotten to know each other?”
Roy hadn't thought about it in such terms, but Ed had a point. One would think that in all this time they would have known more personal information about each other a lot sooner than they did. Roy soon came to the conclusion that both of them were just extremely good at keeping out of the limelight when it came to certain things, and he also knew that they were both grand masters at dodging uncomfortable questions.
Once he really thought back on his previous conversations with Ed, Roy realized that he was one of the few people who knew that Ed ran into his father while he was on the other side of the gate, and that there were people on that side who looked just like people on this side. When he first started spending time with the eldest Elric as a person, he found out all sorts of things. He now knew that the person walking by his side was multi-lingual, played the piano, sang, composed music, had every plant known to mankind in his basement, volunteered at the local orphanage and that he had also become somewhat of a favorite to the Führer himself.
Despite all this knowledge, Roy did have one question he'd always wanted to ask Ed; but his instinct told him it would be better off to let that sleeping dog lie. From the sounds of things, though, he might get a chance to bring it up tonight. If he was reading Ed right, the blond had a question or two of his own he wanted to ask. Roy figured he'd save any questions until they got back to their room.
When they reached suite five of Lou's Inn, Ed announced that he was going to go downstairs to find a phone he could use and call Al and Hughes. Roy was planning to relax and read until Ed returned, and bade him good luck. With a smile and a salute, the young prodigy was out the door.
* * *
It had been a couple of days since his brother left Resembool to return to Central, and Al was beginning to get edgy; he hadn't heard from Ed since then. Al had managed to get Winry to talk to him a little, and at first, he was not overly impressed with what his childhood friend had to say about her actions. After several failed attempts at trying to convince Al that the whole situation was indeed Ed's fault, she gave up, cried it out, and apologized profusely, all the while trying to convince Al to get Ed to come back. He told her he didn't think that was a possibility, but when he heard from Ed, he would ask anyway.
After Winry had retired for the evening that night, Al was sitting in the kitchen enjoying a cup of tea with Pinako when the phone rang. “Answer the phone, Alphonse. I'm betting it's for you anyway.”
Al nodded at her; he had the same feeling as well. He picked up the receiver. “Rockbell Automail Service.”
“Hey, Al.”
A smile split the younger Elric's face when he heard the lighthearted tone in his sibling's voice. “Hey Brother, you sound well. How are you?”
“Doing pretty good, I mean, better than I thought I would be. But I have mostly Roy to thank for that, I guess.”
“Roy… what'd he do?” Al asked, and Pinako noticed the expression on his face as well as the tone of his voice. The elderly woman then turned her attention to Al's conversation.
“He came along on my road trip with me- we are in East Grinstead right now.”
“Really? What brought you there?”
“I wanted to just go and browse some of the shops, but as luck would have it they're having an inventor's convention.”
“That sounds great, Brother. I'm glad you're doing better and having fun.”
There was a stretch of silence after Al's last statement.
“Is she still mad at me Al?”
“No. Not really. I think she's more upset with herself right now. She wants you to come back to Resembool.”
“Even if I wanted to I can't. You know how far East Grinstead is.”
“Yeah, I'll let her know you're not in Central. It's probably for the best; she's still a bit emotional.”
Ed sighed into the phone. “Well, I guess it's like Roy said; it'll take time.”
“Sounds like you've been receiving some sound advice.”
“Eh, he's been great to put up with me the last couple of days. Maes and Gracia too.”
“How are they doing?”
“Probably worried about me since I turned up on their doorstep as soon as I got back to Central, but Maes fixed it so Roy could come on my trip with me. Don't ask me how.”
Al chuckled at that. “Mr. Hughes has a magic all his own. He can manage the craziest things on no notice at all. I think he holds all of the military strings in the palm of his hand.”
“…You're probably right on that one.”
“Well… I'm glad you are not alone, Brother. I was worried about you.”
“I know, and I'm sorry for taking off like I did. I just didn't see any way around it.”
“There wasn't.” Al admitted dejectedly.
“How is Auntie? Has she talked to Winry any?”
“She's fine, and they have chatted quite often over the past few days.”
“I hope she wasn't too hard on Winry.”
“I think she was as stern with her as she needed to be. I know you don't like seeing her hurt, neither one of us do, but what happened was pretty uncalled for.”
“I know, Al, the whole things just turned into a big mess.”
“Like Roy said, it will work out in time.”
“Yeah, yeah, I get it,” Ed replied. “By the way, has anyone heard from Jean? I would call him, but his mother doesn't have a phone.”
“No, I haven't. But maybe Mr. and Mrs. Hughes have. You're going to call them too, right?”
“Yeah, as soon as I get off the phone with you Al.”
“Tell them a hello for me.”
“You do the same for me with Auntie and Winry, okay?”
“Will do, Brother. Have a good night, and have fun.”
“Thanks. Love you, Al.”
“I love you too, Brother.”
When Al hung up the phone and turned around, he could see the questions in Pinako's eyes before she gave them voice. He simply smiled at her and returned to his seat. He knew she would ask them as soon as she got her thoughts together.
“Alphonse. I thought you said Ed was dating that tall, lanky fellow from his unit. Jean, was it?”
“Yes, Auntie.”
“But Ed's out on the road with Roy Mustang.”
“Yes, Auntie.”
She stuffed some more tobacco in her pipe, lit it, and sat back in thought. She was a wise old woman, and Al had no doubt that even on the limited information she had, Auntie would figure out what he was just starting to understand.
“From what I heard, it sounded as if General Mustang was just what the doctor ordered for Edward.”
“I believe he is too Auntie, even for more than just this road trip of theirs, but I won't interfere with Brother's life like that. I will leave that for him to figure out.”
“Tell me, Alphonse,” she began as she refilled both of their cups of tea, “What do you make of this Jean fellow?”
“He's a nice guy, he's funny, he's attractive, and he seems to care for Brother a lot.”
“But I think Ed's a little too much of a free spirit for him.”
“Your Brother has always belonged to two things, to you and the world.”
Al reddened a little at that, all while knowing full well the woman in front of him was right. He realized a long time ago that his brother was akin to a force of nature. Wild, untamed and beautiful most of the time; but fierce and unpredictable at others. For all of the hardships they've endured, both of them still saw that the world had a whole host of wonderful things to offer, and at times, they both sought out those things with an almost reckless abandon. He knew that was part of the issue in his previous relationship with Kara.
She wanted him to belong to her and only her; Al had swiftly let her know that was not likely to happen. He had his research, his music, friends, family…in other words, too much to be entirely devoted to one person. The only person Al could think of being devoted to in such a single-minded way was his Brother. When Edward disappeared, Al spent every waking moment (and even some sleeping ones) trying to find a way to bring him back.
“I think you're right as per usual, Auntie. I think Jean might be a bit too fragile to be with Brother. Ed doesn't know the meaning of the word jealously while I know the first Lieutenant is all too acquainted with the term.”
“I see. So he's insecure?”
“Maybe others don't see it, but I do. I have watched him watching others as they watch Ed. His expression and mannerisms give away a lot.” Al said as he got up from the table to rummage through the fridge. Finding a few slices of ham from last night's dinner, he pulled it out and sat it on the counter before turning his back to Pinako to stare out the kitchen window. “Or maybe I'm just being an overprotective brother.”
“Perhaps… or maybe it is simply that you know Ed like no one else ever could. Plus, you've always been highly observant. You are probably the only reason Ed didn't get himself killed when he first joined the military. He had you there to actually pay attention to what was going on around him…we all know he gets tunnel vision at times.” She said with a smile he didn't see.
“True.” Al replied with a heavy sigh.
“So if you don't mind an old woman being nosy, could you tell me what else has went on to make you feel the way you do? I have known you long enough to know any judgment you've passed on a situation has to have had more input than what little you've told me.”
Al leaned on the kitchen sink and told Pinako everything starting from Ed and Roy's little dance that night long ago at Fidel's, up to their current road trip that he has observed. Right after he finished Al heard a chair slide across the floor and Pinako soon appeared beside him at the kitchen counter.
“So you are thinking that Mustang has a thing for Edward.” She stated.
“Yes.” Al said bluntly.
“A situation like that could spell trouble for our boy.”
“I don't think it will come to that Auntie.” Al said sounding somewhat shocked at her words.
“And why not?” she asked as she tapped him on the shoulder.
“Because,” Al said as he turned to face her, “Brother is not one to promote drama.”
“Not intentionally.” She responded matter-of-factly, “But we both know Edward can be painfully oblivious to some things. I know for a fact that he has a hard time seeing himself as attractive because of the automail. Not an unusual thing for amputees to experience, but in all these years Ed has never really adjusted to it mentally. He sees himself as irreparably flawed, that he'll never be good enough.”
Al took a step back and narrowed his eyes at the woman beside him. Convinced, she was making it sound worse than it probably was. She had to be. He was sure the elderly woman was mistaken. For all of Ed's denseness, he was still one of the cockiest people Al knew and he told Pinako just that.
“When it comes to alchemy, science, and his rank of Lt. Colonel at the tender age of twenty-two; not nearly so much when it comes down to his physical person. A man with his looks should be downright vain, but not our Edward. He's not vain at all.”
Al's mind quickly replayed many events at lightning speed trying to come up with one incident to prove her wrong. Memories of their times on the road, nights at Fidel's, office parties and the like all rolled through the young professor's head and at any time someone was eyeing them when they were together Ed was always certain it was Al, not himself, being “checked out.” He remembered his Brother being quite the social butterfly at the Christmas party at the University but never dancing with anyone. He remembered Ed's short-lived dating of Jules from the shoe shop, the artist Gary Hollis, and Sciezska too. All ended after a few dates then Ed never spoke of them again. Al assumed his brother had grown bored of them or something of the like; but now wondered what really happened to end it. Because after Gary he dated no one for almost two years…then he started seeing Jean.
“Just because you catch most things doesn't mean you catch them all. No one is perfect, Alphonse, and your Brother has gone out of his way to hide what he wants no one to see.” She said with a weary smile. “Believe it or not, his lack of dating anyone was part of the reason why Winry was so convinced he had his eyes set on her.”
It was silent for a while as Al turned back to the window just as a few stray clouds crossed in front of the moon. There was a feeling welling up in Al's chest and he felt he might be consumed by it.
“Why didn't he ever talk to me about it?” Al whispered.
“And risk worrying his little brother?”
Al whipped his head around and glared at Pinako with fury in his eyes. “I'm not some kid anymore!” he all but shouted, “He can talk to me about anything!”
“Only to an extent.” She replied calmly in the face of his anger.
Al felt his own words come back to bite him and he didn't like the feel of it at all. He remembered all too well saying something similar to Ed not too long ago, and to hear it now directed at him, hurt. It made him angry, and it hurt.
“Are you trying to say he doesn't trust me?”
He knew it was wrong but he took his anger out on the only person there at the moment when he was really only mad at himself. Maybe he and Winry should start a club.
“No. Your brother would trust you with his life, but one thing he has never done and probably will never do is tell you anything he thinks will worry you about him.”
By this time, Al's chest was heaving with barely suppressed emotion. He didn't know what to do with all the new information he had to process concerning his brother. If he looked at Ed's behavior from Pinako's perspective, the seemingly odd things Ed did (or didn't) do made a lot more sense. Sure, it would be nothing to dance with Fuery or Riza. If he touched them with his right hand, they wouldn't be shocked by the firm coolness of the steel that it was made of. They knew. They were safe. There was almost no risk of rejection, any awkward hesitations, or uncomfortable moments of explanation.
For years, his brother had suffered in silence and all he's done was give him a hard time about being such a prude. For the first time Al actually tried to think how he would feel undressing in front of someone if he had an automail limb and quite a few scars from it as well from battles past. He couldn't even convince himself that it would be an easy thing to do. He'd always felt guilty about Ed sacrificing the majority of his childhood to the military in order to fix a mistake they both chose to make. Now Al felt even guiltier as he realized his brother was still living a somewhat limited life as an adult.
Al's memory might be a little hazy in spots, but other than that, he had nothing to complain about. At first his mind was missing those four years, he spent in armor but as time passed most of those memories came back. Whatever Ed did, he made sure his little brother was restored completely. Moreover, there Al was, whole and happy. Not only that but he got a complete rewind with a childhood to relive; sure, he spent two years searching for a way to return Ed to them all, but he had help. He still lived a relatively normal life. Al realized that was because, unlike Ed, he didn't have a seven-foot metal reminder in front of him as searched for clues and answers.
Al never had to eat his meals across from someone he knew could not do the same. He never had to sleep in front of a soul that he knew could not rest. Al had no reason not to take comfort in the understanding arms of Mr. or Mrs. Hughes because there wasn't someone standing there also hurting that could not feel the warmth of the embrace.
Then the memories of the obvious guilt he knew Ed felt every time he did any little thing Al couldn't enjoy while in that armor flashed through his mind. How Ed never did most of the things average teenagers did, because he promised Al that they would do those things together when Al could feel again… but that wasn't what happened. Ed spent two years in a foreign land where no one even spoke the same language. Ed was alone, with damaged automail in a place with people that eerily mirrored the people here. Ed even had to deal with finding their father only to lose him just as he had made some sort of peace with the man.
Looking out at the now cloudless night sky, Al realized his brother had done what he could to give Al back everything he'd lost and, remarkably, succeeded. While Ed himself had not fared so well; equivalent exchange always liked playing hardball with Ed.
Tired in a why he hadn't been since he first got his body back, he looked up at Pinako shamefully. “Sorry for raising my voice like I did, Auntie.”
“Not a problem, Alphonse.”
“Now that I know part of what Brother's true issue is, how do I get him to talk to me?”
“Like I said earlier, that is something that may never happen; but if it does it will have to be him coming to you after he realizes there aren't as many closed doors for him as he thinks there is. With any luck, Roy or Jean will help him see that.”
Al nodded and yawned. He now had a lot to think about, and he vowed he would take the next opportunity he had to honestly speak with his brother and use it to the fullest. He had already realized he needed to stop assuming things about his brother, but now he had a completely new list of things he needed to do. Learning to stop judging Ed by the same standards socially as he did himself was at the top of that list. Al could now see how some parts of their lives and experiences were too different for that to be logical.
Al didn't have automail. He hasn't spent ten years in the military. He didn't spend two years in a place where everything he knew and trusted was gone. He never had to deal with confronting dad. He didn't have a reputation larger than life to live up to.
… And he didn't have to be the older brother.
With those thoughts in mind, he hugged Pinako, apologized again, and went upstairs.
* * *
After the conversation with his brother ended, the eldest Elric picked the phone right back up and asked to be patched through to the Hughes household in Central. Maes was the one to answer the phone, and after the two of them exchanged pleasantries Maes asked, “So are the two of you having a good time?”
“Yeah, we are. Thanks for pulling whatever strings you had to pull with Riza to get Roy's time off approved so quickly.”
“Not a problem Ed, you needed the company and he needed the break, so it worked out well for all parties involved.”
Ed smiled into the receiver, “I guess it did.”
Maes wanted nothing more than to tell his almost-son how his best friend felt about him, but he knew that would be a violation of trust he would likely not be forgiven for. So instead, he decided he would try to pique Ed's curiosity about a few things in lieu of spilling the proverbial beans.
“I had no doubt this would be a great time for both of you,” Maes began, and his wife glanced up from the book she was reading and gave him a curious look. “The two of you always seem to have so much fun when you're together,” Gracia narrowed her eyes at her husband and shook her head. She now had a good idea what he was up to.
“I guess we kinda do, don't we?”
“No `kind of' to it, Ed. Remember when the two of you got paired up to kick off the demonstrations at the induction ceremony of the newly appointed State Alchemists.”
“The two of you put on such a fantastic show people are still talking about that one. No one would have ever guessed the entire thing was unrehearsed.”
“I suppose that was a great success considering we got cornered into doing it at the last minute.”
“Yup, it was just like the time you signed the two of you up to be hosts for the Miss Central pageant.”
“Now that was hilarious. We had a blast doing that once we got into the spirit of things.”
“These days I always figure that anytime the both of you are going to be in the same place, there will be a good time had by all. Gracia's is still laughing over that little food fight you two had in our kitchen.”
At the mere mentioning of the event, Gracia Hughes started laughing again. “Can you hear her Ed? She's laughing now.”
“I can hear her.” Ed said while chuckling himself, “I suppose that was pretty comical.”
“It was. The two of you are like peas in a pod; and so much alike at times it's scary.”
Ed just laughed at what the man on the other end was saying, but all the while, his brain was replaying all of the incidents of him and Roy doing something together over the past few months. He had no choice but to admit he did really enjoy the time they spent together. Ed remembered thinking about how much he was going to miss Roy the two weeks he was supposed to spend in Resembool.
Ed shook the thoughts out of his head and asked Maes if he or Gracia had heard from Jean.
“No, but he's supposed to be back at the office first workday after tomorrow, I think.”
“That's right, would you tell him I'm out on a road trip with Roy so he won't panic when someone tells him I'm not in Resembool.”
“I most certainly will.”
“Thanks, Maes, and you can leave out the details. I don't want to worry him. I'll just fill him in when we get back.”
“Whatever you wish, Ed. You guys take care and have fun.”
“We will, hug both the ladies for me.”
“It'll be my pleasure. Consider it done.”
When Ed hung up the phone, his mind was whirling. It had him rethinking the conversation he had on the train with Al, as well as that odd moment between him and Roy last night. He was pretty sure where Roy fit into his life a few days ago, and now his mind was mulling it all over again. His psyche didn't get too far with it before he thought, Wait, why the fuck does this keep coming up? Ever since that night we danced at Fidel's, Roy Mustang has been on my brain. Ed continued to think as he wandered into the kitchen area away from the front desk. Maybe Al's right and I do just need to get laid. One racy dance and my mind gets all obsessed.
There was only one person left in the kitchen at that time of night, and she looked like she was closing up. When the tall, older, mostly gray-haired, woman noticed him, she smiled tiredly. “Is there anything I can help you with, sir?”
“Yeah… is it too late for me to get tea and a light snack for two?”
“Not if you can deal with green tea and ramen,” she replied in a joking manner.
“Beggars can't be choosers, and to be honest, that actually sounds great to me.”
“What room are you in, sweetie?”
“Suite five.”
“I'll have it right up as soon as it's done.”
Ed thanked the lady and slowly made his way back to the room. When he got there, he found Roy propped up in the window seat and he appeared to be daydreaming. He didn't even acknowledge Ed walking into the room. Ed took this opportunity to study Roy's face as the pale light from the moon illuminated his features. He was not happy to note that the man seemed distant; and a somewhat sad smile was occupying his face. A face Ed noted, that didn't look as old as it should. Ed wondered if Roy had something on his mind or if it was the bad meal that was bothering him still.
The blond figured that there was only one way to find out.
“You okay over there Roy?”
Roy murmured a soft yes in reply, but never turned away from the window he was peering out of. Now unsettled, Ed's eyebrows knitted together and he walked up to Roy and told him he had some ramen and tea on the way up. Roy said thank you in reply, but continued to stare out the window.
“You sure nothing's wrong?” Ed asked as he took a seat on the surprisingly soft cushion, across from Roy.
“I'm fine Ed, honestly. I'm just thinking.”
“About what?”
About how wonderful you are, how foolish I am, how difficult the rest of this trip is going to be now… Roy thought woefully. He finally turned away from the window and his eyes fell on Ed as he worked to undo his hair from its braid. Roy watched, transfixed as a nimble mix of flesh and metal worked the golden plait loose. “Just a lot of things Ed, mostly work related.” He figured that it wouldn't be a complete lie. “You sounded as if you had something on your mind when we were leaving the park, Edo. What was it?”
“To be honest, I was sort of wondering about your parents, you don't speak of them much,” Ed said as his teeth worried his bottom lip in his anxiousness, “… actually you don't speak about family at all.” He finished quietly.
“My mother was Xingian, my father was Amestrian.” Roy stated somewhat wistfully.
Edward didn't miss his tone, or the past tense Roy used when referring to both his parents.
“Are they…? I'm sorry, Roy. I didn't know.”
“It's all right. They both passed away years ago, I've dealt with it.”
“It still must be hard at times. I know how it feels to lose your parents.” A moment of silence enveloped them both. “Do you have any other family left?”
“My mother's brother and his wife live in Xing. I keep in frequent contact with them.” Roy answered, “I was always their favorite nephew, and they still dote on me like I'm a little kid.” Roy said with a smile, and he couldn't help but think about all the things his Aunt and Uncle sent him when he first left home and joined the military. They really were wonderful to him. “Can I ask what brought this all on?”
“Anytime something drastic happens in my life or Al's and we end up at Hughes's place, it just makes me think about what we've lost. I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm more than grateful for everything Maes and Gracia do for us. But I still wonder what my life would have been like if…” Ed's voice trailed off.
“I understand. I sometimes wonder myself,” Roy began as he adjusted in the window seat, deciding to share a little more of himself. “My mother died in an accident when I was 15, and then my father died the following year. The doctors called it unlikely, but I think he died from a broken heart. I went to live with my Aunt and Uncle in Xing afterward for a short period of time before I decided to return to Amestris and join the military.”
Ed started to say something when a knock sounded at the door. He strolled across the room and opened it, only to have a tray loaded down with ramen thrust in his face. When he looked up at the woman she smiled at him and said, “I remembered you from the first day you boys were here and came in for dinner after you checked in. I figured you could put this much ramen away with no problem.” She said with a playful grin, “Besides, it's nice to see young lovers at this inn again. We mostly get stodgy old salesmen and business people these days.”
Ed's face turned three shades of red at the woman's assumption. “Um, thank you. Er, but we're not um...I mean….” Ed barely managed to stutter.
“Huh. Really?” she asked looking over Ed's shoulder at Roy and he nodded, “The way you two were joking and carrying on that day I would have bet anything that you were lovers or newlyweds.”
It was remarkable how much blood Edward's face could hold.
“How much do we owe you, ma'am?” Roy said as walked up beside the speechless blond and reached for the tray.
“It's on the house, sweetie.” She answered with a wink as she handed the tray over to Roy and disappeared down the hall.
Roy moved from the doorway to take the tray over to the small circular table that sat across from the window seat Roy had been perched in. When Ed turned around, Roy was looking at him with the strangest of expressions. Edward found that he was still unable to utter a sound and decided to just sit down and eat.
Roy unrolled the chopsticks from their napkins, handed one set to Ed, placed the other in his bowl of ramen and took a seat himself. Ed had busied himself by pouring them each a cup of tea. Once that was done, they both sat there eating in silence. Thick, oppressive, awkward silence. Finally, Ed could bare it no longer and blurted out what had been on his mind earlier. “There was a lot involved in getting me back on this side of the gate.”
“How so?” Roy asked, thankful to have a reason to fill the silence.
“Like you already know there was no alchemy there. So every time Hoenheim and I came up with a way to get back here it called for… it called for major sacrifice.”
Ed's tone caused Roy to look up from his food. His eyes met serious gold ones and a sudden chill raced through him. He wanted to know what the sacrifice entailed, but was reluctant to ask exactly what Ed had meant by that. When he did, the answer was shocking beyond his own imagination.
“The entire situation and everything I was involved in had gotten crazy. We had managed to anger a lot of people and things on that side and in an act of desperation to save me Dad slit his own wrists, by forfeiting his life, he gave the gate what it wanted in exchange for returning me here.”
Roy's chopsticks clattered as they hit the table, and his wide eyes looked at Ed in disbelief. “I'd always wondered way he didn't return with you.” Roy whispered.
“I figured it had crossed your mind a time or two.” Ed replied as he idly poked his chopsticks around in his bowl of ramen.
“For what it's worth, Ed, I'm sorry.”
Ed gave him a wistful smile and took a sip of his tea. “I guess we both have a nice list of things we keep under lock and key, oh husband of mine.” Ed said as a joking tone slipped back into his voice. Ed could only take so much seriousness before he needed a breather.
As hard as he tried not to, Roy burst out laughing, and Ed soon joined him. Their spirits lightened, the two delved back into their cooling noodles. With the ice broken between them over another thing once hidden in each of their pasts, it became a lot easier for them to converse about what was once forbidden. They talked until the moon was high in the night sky and they were both stifling yawns. Many times Roy considered saying something to Ed about the way he felt, but he talked himself out of it each time. During that long conversation over tea, they decided to spend one more night in Grinstead. Roy didn't care either way. Time with Ed was time with Ed, after all. He knew this was going to be hard at some points, but he decided he'd make the best of the situation and have as much fun as he could.