Well, hello! Just your friendly neighborhood FMA nut here… just a few notes.
1. I do not own FMA, or FMA:B. (Drat…)
2. This one-shot operates on the assumption that it took exactly one year for Ed to recover from his automail surgery/Gate-inflicted wounds after the attempt at human transmutation when he was 11. This means that October 3rd, for the purposes of this fic, is the day Ed and Al transmuted their mother, as well as the day they burned down their house.
3. I still feel like this could be improved, so be nice and help me fix it if you feel that way, too. Your review(s) will help!
4. Thanks to the lovely NinthFeather for beta-ing! (Go check out her stories, they're excellent!)
Rant to Recovery
October 3, 1914
The golden-haired alchemist spun on his heel toward the sound, the sunlight radiating around his head like a halo. A frown came over his features as he recognized the voice. "What is it, you bastard?"
A smirk crossed the older alchemist's face. "Here," he said as he held out a leather-bound notebook, "you dropped this. Getting short-term memory loss, are we?"
Predictably, Ed exploded.
"WHO ARE YOU CALLING SO SHORT THAT HIS MEMORIES TAKE UP MORE SPACE THAN HIS BODY DOES?"
And, perhaps even more predictably, Mustang's smirk only widened at the shorter alchemist's characteristic rant, entirely entertained by the blonde's reaction to the implied taunt. Al had managed to grab his brother before he got close enough to the Colonel to cause any harm, of course, so there was no real reason for the man to continue tormenting the boy for his own amusement. Mustang turned neatly on his heel to leave the train station, barely lifting a hand in farewell. "Oh, and Fullmetal? Don't forget that report."
And, yet again, Ed was off on a tirade, this time focused entirely on the retreating man's debatable morals and unsavory habits, especially his womanizing tendencies and general laziness. For most of the civilians on the train, it was really quite surprising to hear such a… variety of curses from someone so young as the boy appeared to be. But then, most of them had no idea that the boy had served the military since he was 12 years old, and even then he had no longer, in truth, been a child. Nor did they realize that the man who had seen them off was not, in fact, the blonde's father. Many were quite shocked at the language used, and attempted to avoid the incoherently screaming boy as much as they could, inadvertently aiding the large suit of armor which was attempting to get him on the train.
Al, the only civilian who had been prepared for his brother's actions, just barely managed to pull Ed onto the train and into a seat before the whistle blew to signal the train's departure from the station, letting out a sigh of relief as the train began to move. While watching Ed perform verbal jousts with the Colonel was usually rather entertaining for everyone except his brother, Al was really very glad that he had gotten Ed onto the train without any more interference by the older alchemist. Sometimes, even Al admitted that enough was enough, and the Colonel had really been pushing his luck all week.
Granted, Al understood some of the man's reasoning behind the teasing. It really was fun to watch Ed while he ranted, especially if he had enough room to pace and make insanely large gestures. Free entertainment of the highest quality.
But sometimes, the Colonel just chose the worst times to pick on his brother.
And the week of October 3 was just about the worst date he could have chosen.
Ed had taken to staring out the window a lot, this last week. And not for small periods of time, either. Hours would pass before Ed would even move. He'd barely eaten anything, not even when Al had forced him to eat something, and sleep had really been out of the question.
Al had been awfully silent and contemplative as well, although not to the depth his brother had been. Al's silence was more out of respect for his brother than anything else, although his thoughts occasionally strayed to a time four years in the past as well.
A time when both children had been innocent of the horrors of the world, to the nature of Equivalent Exchange and the laws that came with it, when they had not understood what the circle of life truly meant. A time when both children, though lonely, had been happy. When they had been whole, in mind and body and soul.
A time before they had attempted to resurrect their mother through human transmutation.
It had always hit Ed hard, during the week of October 3rd. Just what they had done, and the results of it, were horrifying to comprehend, and Al knew that his brother blamed himself for all of it. For trying something that they should have known was impossible, for involving his younger brother in something so horrible, for creating a creature that had died after a few seconds because it simply could not survive the way it was, for losing Al's body to the Gate as the toll for their mistake.
And that was the worst part of it for him, Al knew. Ed blamed himself for not being able to save him, for everything that had gone wrong and ever would. The nightmares haunted his brother nightly during this week, and though the only outward sign of his suffering was reflected in his moodiness and the bags under his eyes, Al knew that Ed could get no rest from his ghosts.
Especially not when the living reminder of his failure lived in the same house with him.
Al had never blamed his brother for what had happened that night. It had been his choice to participate, his choice to take the risks the alchemy inevitably carried and his choice to keep going even after he had tried to convince his brother to stop.
But Ed had never seemed to take Al's feelings on the subject into account. It didn't matter how many times Al tried to pull him from his black despair, how many ways he attempted to show his brother that he would always be there for him, how many times he explained that he didn't blame Ed, in any way, for what had happened. It was like Ed never heard him.
Or, perhaps, that he heard, but didn't believe. Couldn't believe.
How could he make his brother understand that not everything was his fault? Nothing had ever worked before, and it seemed that nothing helped this year, either.
And with the Colonel's teasing on top of everything else, Ed had blown up. Really and truly blown up, not just the minor rants and tantrums that were so much fun to watch. This rage was a truly frightening one, all the more so because Ed absolutely refused to let his emotions out in the open. He just bottled them up, stockpiling the hurt and hate and agony until it became a solidified lump of awfulness in the very core of his being.
Al hated it. Hated that he hid what he should have shared, and by doing so gradually diminish the pain.
Ed's rant about the Colonel had finally wound down to a more sane tone, and he was repeating all the… creative things he'd do to his CO the next time he pulled something like this. Of course, Al could just tune him out by now, but it had never seemed to help. So he decided to change the conversation. Perhaps if he could distract his brother from his favorite theme, he could help pull him from the monotony of his misery?
It was certainly worth a try. "Brother?"
Ed finally looked at Al, stopping mid-sentence. "Yeah, Al?"
"You do realize that the Colonel wouldn't tease you so much if you didn't react like that, don't you?"
Complete silence, blessed silence, filled the compartment as Ed took those words in. Al very nearly laughed at the absolutely scandalized look on his brother's face. It was half-way between utter amazement and complete disbelief that such a simple tactic could work to rid him of his torture.
"You really think so?"
Al had no trouble reading the insanity in that hopeful tone. Somehow, he just knew he was going to regret ever saying this… "Yeah, I do, Brother."
Ed folded his mismatched arms over his chest as he contemplated this idea, making it extremely difficult for Al to maintain a serious expression. Ed really could act like a child, sometimes… and his small stature didn't help matters. At all.
Best not to let Ed know I'm thinking that, though. He'd kill me. Or maybe just maim me. I am his brother, after all... he promised Mom to take care of me. And there was the crux of the problem. Ed's "older brother" syndrome refused to let any of the blame fall on other shoulders.
It was at times like this that Al really wished that their foolish attempt at human transmutation had really worked, for the simple fact that their mother would never have allowed Ed to fall so deeply into this cycle of hurt and blame. Even if Ed had somehow managed to get to the point that he had, Trisha would have known exactly what to do to get him to drag himself out of the pit of despair, to get him moving forward.
Come to think of it, that was remarkably similar to what Colonel Mustang had done for them, those years ago. He'd offered a way out of the hole they'd created, a path to follow, and lit the spark that had kept Ed searching for a way to "fix" what had happened.
Al felt a sudden surge of gratitude for the man. For all his tendencies to irritate Ed, the Colonel really wasn't all that bad. He'd brought them into the military so they could get access to the research they so desperately needed. He'd even given them whatever leads he'd uncovered while they were out investigating things, and Al knew just how difficult it was to drag up any amount of information on the subject, let alone in the amounts the Colonel had, seemingly magically, procured for them.
The Colonel had sent them a promising lead just a few weeks ago, and the brothers had been researching into its possibilities night and day. The coding on the alchemic notes they'd dug out of some of the dustiest tomes the pair had ever seen in the library had taken quite some time to crack, and Al had spent so much time in the library that he'd lost track of the date.
In fact, he'd also missed all the signs Ed was exhibiting as well. And now it was too late for Al to keep him out of the self-inflicted misery his brother had, once again, fallen into.
"I don't think I'll be able to not react to him, though, Al," Ed said quietly. "I'm too used to telling people off when they call me… when they say I'm…"
It seemed that Ed couldn't finish his own sentence without calling himself short. "When they comment on your lack of height?" There was a hint of a smile heard in Al's words, though the armor wouldn't outwardly reflect it.
Ed glared at him, but Al deemed it well worth it. He'd finally gotten his brother to talk! Even if it was about limiting his reactions to certain statements of fact about his stature…
Finally, Ed sighed in defeat. "Yeah, when they say I have a deficiency in… a certain area."
"Do you tell them off just out of habit, or do you do it because it actually makes you mad, Brother?"
Ed thought about it for a bit, his dead voice gaining a bit of color as he responded. "Probably a bit of both. I mean, they have no right to call me… what they call me… when they have deficiencies just as strong in other areas! Come on, Al, who gave them the right to judge what's normal? Maybe they're all just freakishly tall!"
This time, Al didn't bother trying to hide his laugh, and it bubbled up in unstoppable waves as Ed continued.
"Yeah, that's it, they're all freakishly tall, and Armstrong's the worst of the lot. Hah! I knew there was a reason I was put on this planet! I have to prove to the world what height normal people are supposed to be!"
Al just sat quietly after his laughter had died down a bit, watching with nothing less than joy as his brother warmed to his theme, unknowingly beginning his road to recovery.
Funny how all he'd really needed was a good rant to put the past behind him and be alive again… but then, that was his Brother, through and through.