Title: Night at the Pound
Rating: PG (a few curses)
Spoilers: manga, Doors
Genre: horror? I really don't know.
Summary: Ed's being overbearing, Al asks for some breathing space. It's the same story every time....and it will end in the same way.
Comments: I'm unsure about this idea. On one hand, I'm pleased, because I managed to twist the entire premise of the series in one short fic. On the other hand, maybe it's just a little too much....
The idea hit me, I wrote it, and SeventhDaughter, megkipsand evil_katproofed for me.
Night at the Pound
It was a dead night.
The air was hot and heavy. It hugged the ground possessively, doing its best to stifle the lone figure plodding up the path. With labored steps, exhaustion radiating from him in waves, he plodded up the hill. He raised his hand to knock, but was forestalled when the door flung itself open. A blond woman stood in the doorway, framed by the light, her face lifted anxiously to his.
“Al...?” Hope died in her voice just as quickly as it had arisen.
No answer was necessary; the fact that he was still alone said enough, but Al shook his head anyway. He looked away from the pain in her eyes as he entered the house.
“Nobody knows,” Al said dully. “I got the same thing everywhere. 'He was here last month,' or 'I think he may have passed through.'” His fists clenched. “The same shit.”
Winry followed him down the entrance hall, past the kitchen where her coffee sat untouched, cooling on the counter. “He hasn't called,” she murmured. She paused, then as an afterthought asked- “Are you hungry?”
“No, I had something earlier.” Distracted, he paced around the living room restlessly, aware of her eyes on him, her accusing eyes. Around and around he paced, and then finally collapsed onto a sofa.
“Al,” she said, in the determined voice he had become familiar with over the last two months, “tell me what happened.”
He had found a thousand ways to push her off, made a thousand excuses, but he was running out of ideas. His self-pity, the attempt to hide his sheer stupidity, was wearing thin; already he could feel it cracking under the pressure of a single thought that ran through his head: 'she deserves to know.'
She came closer, almost put a hand on his shoulder but thought better of it, tried to keep her voice gentle. “Maybe if I know what-”
“You'll what?” Al snapped at her furiously. “You think you can change it? You think it'll make him come back?” She was angry at him now, and it hurt, because he knew he deserved it.
A whimper tore out of him, and he buried his face in his hands. “Oh God, it was just a stupid fight. I didn't know he would do...this...”
Now that he had started, he knew he had to finish; thankfully, Winry didn't press. She just stood there quietly, contriving to make her presence somehow comforting.
“It was...ugh. The usual stuff. He was being, well, himself, you know? He always thought I couldn't get along without him... I couldn't live with him like that. We've got different lives, I told him. The 'older brother' shtick was getting old... he pissed me off. I just wanted some time alone, to think things through.” Al looked up at her pleadingly, begging for understanding. Everybody's yelled at someone they love, at least once, his eyes begged her to understand. It wasn't fair that it should end like this.
“I just told him to...get out of my hair for a while.”
The words hung in the air, the understatement obvious.
Winry's silence dragged the words out of him better than any remark of hers could have. It hurt to feel this guilt, like a physical throb that pulsed through him and stabbed constantly at his very center, at his heart. He wondered if his brother had felt like this over him, and the thought made him feel even worse.
“...It wasn't phrased quite as politely as that,” he finally whispered.
Winry sighed, but didn't look surprised. “I figured it was something like that.” Her voice was chilly, but not icy, and that was comforting. “You know what I think happened to him?”
Al jerked his head up, staring. She thought she knew? She hadn't told him?
“I think he killed himself.”
Shock swept over him, like a wave of icy water. “He didn't.”
Her voice was coldly matter-of-fact, and this time it was she who refused to look at him. “He lived for you, Al. If you told him to bugger off he probably took you seriously.”
“HE DIDN'T!” Al hardly realized he was shouting. Of course some part of his mind had considered that possibility, plying him with guilt at every opportunity, but until now he had managed to push it away and pay it no serious mind.
“You're never going to find him,” Winry said, and now there was an obvious catch to her voice.
“I will,” Al swore, “I will.” His vision hazy with rage, he stormed off to his bedroom, hardly aware of Winry's tear-ridden sound of disbelief.
He could, and he would. He was an alchemist, and at least as good a one as his elder brother. He slammed the door to their room and leaned, panting, against it. Alchemy.
There was a way.
He clapped his hands together, swore, and paced the small space between the bed and the wall for several minutes. Calm, he thought. He needed to be calm to do this work. It was dangerous even at the best of times.
Ed had done the same for him, though. Ed had risked everything for him. Twice.
The Doors were doors to knowledge... and to Truth. Whatever toll was needed to get the information to find Ed, he would be willing to pay.
Any toll, he firmly told himself. Anything, please, just to have him back.
He concentrated, clapped his hands together, and the world turned white.
The Doors were there. They always seemed familiar to him, even the first time he had seen them, yet always frightening. Looming and sinister, they towered above him, striking a chord deep inside his soul, a chord of terror and longing, of joy and unendurable pain.
And there, right there...
“Brother?” His voice echoed strangely in the nothingness. There was Ed, just sitting there, all curled up with his knees pulled up to his chest. Edward almost looked asleep, but there was something...
“Edward!” Al shouted, and made to move towards his brother, but something held him back.
Instinctively, he turned around, trying to wrench away, but was stopped by a patch of... nothing. This nothing was different from the rest of the Nothing surrounding him, a silhouette against the Nothing. It felt vaguely human... he could sense a hint of a disturbing grin, a maliciousness that only humanity embodied.
The nothing returned his focus to his brother. Are you sure that's the one you want?
“Wha..?” Al shook his head, tried to pull away. “Of course he's the one I want, he's my brother!”
Then who… is that?
He wasn't aware of moving, but suddenly he was looking in another direction, at... another Ed?
It was impossible, his mind screamed at him. It made absolutely no sense, it bordered on ridiculous. “How...?” he stuttered, looking back and forth between the two. They were both undeniably his brother, although there were subtle differences between them... he couldn't focus on what they were, but they were there.
Jerking away from the nothing, he ran toward one of them. “Brother!”
Edward stirred slightly and looked up. His eyes widened when he saw Al, and Ed scrambled to his feet, mouth moving, but if he was speaking, Al couldn't hear him.
There was panic in his brother's movement as Ed tried to run to him, only to be held back by some invisible barrier that surrounded him.
Al stood frozen, watching his brother struggle in vain, a black veil of despair in his tortured eyes. He didn't have to hear in order to know what Edward was crying in a helpless mantra- Al...Al!
Unable to stand it any longer, Al reached toward his brother, but the nothing stopped him once again.
Are you quite sure that's the right one?
“Of...of course he is...” confusion lowered Al’s arm. Edward's shoulders slumped in resignation, and his head fell, hiding the ravaged expression on his face.
It tore at Al to see his brother like that, but he couldn't stop himself from looking back at the other Ed, still sitting there silently. Undecided between the two of them, he stepped back.
With the loss of proximity, the first Edward collapsed back into his original curled-up position.
Al fled, rushed toward the other Edward – surely he would know which one was the right one. Nobody knew his brother better than he did.
This time, Edward didn't jump up. He looked up slowly, only raising his head slightly, to meet Al's eyes with his own empty ones. An expression of pain flickered across his face, a look of raw longing. Ed shook his head slightly, as if to clear it, and this time, it was a muted hope that lit his eyes – he reached forward with one hand, only to be stopped by his barrier. Swiftly, savagely, he clenched his eyes shut and covered his ears, mouth moving silently, it's another dream, just another dream.
Horrified, Al backed away again, and this Edward relaxed back into his sleepy stupor.
“What is this?” Al shouted, whirling around, only to see... more. More images of his brother, each one in his own circle, each one bearing subtle differences, and some not-so-subtle ones.
“Quit playing with me!” He whirled on the nothing, furious. “Which one is the real one? I want my brother out of here! What have you done with him?”
They're all real. They are all your brother. Come, look at them.
Queasy, Al looked around. “I don't want to look at them. They're not all real - they can't be! I want mine back!”
He wasn't good enough for you, though, was he? That's the story of every Edward here. They're all real. They're all equally unreal. These are the Edwards you – and all the other 'you' - have outgrown. Alphonse Elric, you make a harsh creator.
This was definitely a nightmare. It wasn't even a well-thought out nightmare – it made no sense at all. He laughed nervously. “I must be dreaming this,” he said aloud. “This is just stupid. Create my brother? That's practically dumber than when I thought he had created me out of nothing.”
Truth cannot lie. Let me tell you of a child... a child born of alchemy, only half-human. A lonely child, with a father he never saw. He dreamed of a brother, an older brother to guide him, to protect him. An older brother to look up to, yet look down on. A brother to be proud of, to be embarrassed of. A perfect brother.
“He wasn't perfect!” Al retorted triumphantly. “If he had been, this whole mess would never have...”
Edward Elric was the perfect brother for a young boy. A young boy unaware of his own alchemic ability, a boy who unknowingly risked his life to bring his 'brother' from potential to existence. But that boy grew up, and what happened to Edward? Again, the hint of flashing teeth in the nothing.
Al resisted the urge to childishly cover his ears. “I'm not listening. I'm not.”
Let me sell you a brother. He's strong, and smart. He loves you more than anything else; he will always put your well-being above his own. He'll protect you to the best of his abilities, yet rely only on you for support. You're his first, last, and only priority. Do you want a brother like that?
Of course not, you rejected him. Again and again... poor Edward, for his existence relies on such a fickle thing as your whim; he lives only until you grow out of him. He doesn't even know what he's doing wrong. He can't help but be the way you created him.
“But...Granny Pinako, Winry, the General, all those people who know him... some of them knew him since he was a kid!” Al grinned triumphantly. The sweep of his hand encompassed his surroundings. “This isn't real, and you're just messing with my mind. That's all.”
Powerful alchemy indeed... the dream of him existed in your mind for many years, like a ghost of him. You convinced people he existed. Though they saw nothing, their minds told them he was there.
Despite himself, his resolve was wavering. The words struck something inside him, some inner truth... Could this possibly be true? Was his brother, the brother he had idolized, had loved, had hurt, nothing but the figment of his imagination? Not just any old figment, but a figment given reality, and feelings...
Yet, and the Nothing’s tone was different, pulling Al's attention away from the spiraling guilt, you came this far, searching for him. No other Alphonse has come here to retrieve his castoff Edward.
Nothing gestured. Come, choose one. You didn't like yours; was he too forward? Or too confident? Maybe you'll like this Edward. He was tortured by the military – he's much more docile.
No? How about this one. He lost part of his mind, trying to bring your body back. Never mind, I agree, it would be a waste to bring him out, he's hardly aware of his surroundings anyway.
Something less tragic, I suppose. This one quietly vanished after you married Winry – you didn't have time for him anymore, and he didn't know what to do with himself.
“Stop!” Al shrieked, tearing away. “He's not...he's not a thing. I didn't do all those things to him. I wouldn't. I-” somehow, he wasn't surprised to find tears on his cheeks. “Just...show me mine. Please.”
Tens, maybe hundreds of Edwards flashed past him. They blurred in his vision, all those unhappy brothers of his, some of them heartbreakingly young, others older and unfamiliar.
Finally, he saw one who looked right. He wasn't more his brother than the others, but the familiarity was there, born of years spent together.
“That one!” The blur around him halted suddenly. “I'm taking him back with me,” Al said firmly, moving to step close enough to 'activate' him. He didn't dare look to the sides, lest he see-
And the others? They need you no less, maybe more than this one. Why don't you take home one of the abused ones? Or maybe one of the young ones; you can raise him.
Al bit his lip indecisively. How could he choose? How could he pick one, leaving all the others to suffer? So many of them... Would they stay here forever? Would they fade away in time?
He shook his head to clear it, and firmed his resolve. “No...I want this one. He's my mistake. The others are mine too, but I don't remember making them. I can't take responsibility for all my selves, or fix those mistakes. But I'm going to fix this one.”
Al stepped closer, and Edward looked up with the familiar unhappy, fearful, despairing expression they all seemed to have.
When Al held out his arms, Ed's face transformed to pure joy. The barrier dissolved, and Ed flung himself against his brother, clinging to him like a lifeline.
“I knew you'd come, I knew you would-”
Laughing, crying, Al held onto him tightly. How selfish of him, how terrible, to mistreat Edward who couldn't help but love him.
Nothing smiled again, a laugh of cruel irony echoing around. Yes, take him for now. Soon enough he will find his way back, when you tire of him again. It's the story of his life.
“Shut up!” Ed shouted, forestalling the startled Al's answer. “Al would never do that to me. You don't know what you're talking about.”
He tossed Al a confident grin, though there was a hint of tears in his voice. “C'mon, Al, let's get out of here.”
Wind was blowing in through the open window, a hint of rain on it, a promise to break the heat. Al held on to Ed tightly, as if he would vanish into nothing.
“Brother... you came back, I was so worried... I'm so sorry...!”
Ed smiled reassuringly at him. “Shh, Al, it's ok, I'm sorry too. I'll try not to be so overbearing...just hang with me, ok? I'm not used to you being so grown up...”
Ed was real in his arms, and his voice was in Al's ear, and the memory was slipping away like a horrible dream.
“Promise... promise you won't ever vanish again?”
“Of course I won't...where the hell would I go?”
Al opened his mouth to answer, to tell about some place in the middle of nothing full of Edwards who had all left, 'gone somewhere,' but found he couldn't. It couldn't be real...that bizarre story about his brother being created from alchemy...
A vivid memory, of a summer day, playing in the stream all by himself. Suddenly, someone there- someone who looked like him, like his mother, like his vanished father-
“Come on, I'll show you how to skip stones.”
Al looked up, wary of strangers – but this was no stranger. Still - “Who are you?”
“Stoopid,” he stuck out his tongue. “I'm your older brother, of course.”
“Oh...” a smile, “of course! Please show me, Brother?”
And so this was posted, with much trepidation.
EDIT: there are now sequels - Daybreak and Evening Falls