The only problem with that plan was that the door wouldn't open. Perplexed, he tugged at the handle and tried shoving, but it remained immobile. Thinking it might have gotten jammed, he braced his shoulder against it and pushed.
"Al closed it with alchemy."
Alfons turned to the source of the whisper, and found Elysia standing at her door. From the way her hair was mussed, he had woken her up.
"He was having a temper tantrum," she added. "Mom never lets me do things like that."
Alfons sighed and ran his fingers through his hair, leaving it standing on end. He looked at the door, but the heavy wood did not seem any closer to moving.
"I'm sorry I woke you up," he said. "I'll just… go downstairs and read." He remembered that all his books were in his room. Great. "Or not read."
There was a crackle of electricity, and then the door beside him swung open. Alfons looked suspiciously at the darkness inside, and wondered if Al was lying in wait to punch him.
A quick glance across the hall showed that Elysia had vanished back into her room. Nothing for it. Alfons stepped in, but couldn't make out much in the darkness.
"Al?" he murmured.
There was no answer. Valiantly, Alfons tried again, giving voice to concern for Edward. "I'm thinking maybe we should let up on Edward a bit about the trial strategy. He's probably going to be shutting down anyway, now, we won't get anywhere."
Still no response. Alfons gave up.
The calling of witnesses the next day was delayed by a discussion of Edward's miraculously restored sight. Roscoe, ever the opportunist, claimed that this was yet another example of Human Transmutation, happening right under the noses of the justice system. However, even the judges had to scoff at that, because with Edward under a twenty-four-hour per day guard, he could have hardly pulled off such a transmutation unnoticed.
"However," said Justice Castillo, "this does raise the question of whether Mr. Elric's alchemical abilities were similarly restored."
Alfons' heart leaped in joy, but plummeted almost immediately when he saw Edward's face. He didn't even have to listen to Harris, who had stood up to explain-
"Despite what one might think, there is no correlation between Edward's past blindness and his inability to do alchemy. We are prepared to present Dr. Mannheim as an expert witness to this effect."
After some discussion the court agreed, but Alfons had basically stopped listening by then. He couldn't believe that he hadn't even thought of Edward's alchemy when he had announced that his sight was back – though, given the fight immediately afterwards, maybe that wasn't so surprising. It was difficult to mourn something he had never really experienced. True, he had seen the array, but that wasn't like the everyday reality Edward had described, where he could fix anything from a broken glass to a broken car.
I love you anyway, he thought at Edward. As if that would make a difference. At least, Edward had his automail now, and his family, and his world. Maybe it was a fair trade for alchemy. Equivalent.
Meanwhile, the doctor (who was a decent amateur alchemist, not state certified) explained that Edward's blindness hadn't followed the patterns of alchemy-related injury as she had encountered it. Furthermore, she opined, with such a severe case of burnout as he was exhibiting, his ability to use alchemy might be damaged forever. Certainly, he was no greater a risk now than he had been before.
He didn't look like much of a risk, even more slumped and dejected than he had been the previous day in court. Though, Alfons thought privately, Edward was more of a risk, now. With his sight restored, so were his abilities at hand-to-hand combat.
At one point, somebody muttered, loud enough for everyone to hear – "if he could do alchemy, why the hell would he still be here?", which Alfons thought probably helped their case. Nobody really thought that Edward would remain in custody if he could escape.
Either way, the court accepted the testimony, and pronounced that Edward's house arrest would continue. The prosecution wasn't happy.
That business over with, they finally got on with the day's real agenda – bringing Al to the witness stand. Alfons was surprised, but from a quick glance at the faces of the few people in the courtroom, he was the only one. Left out of the loop again.
But it wasn't just him, he saw, when he looked forward again. Edward was tugging urgently at Harris' sleeve, and murmuring unhappily. Harris ignored him.
The prosecutor started with routine questions. He had Al state his name, his relation to Edward, and swear to tell the truth.
"Now," said Roscoe, "I would like to discuss with you the time you were trapped in the armor."
Al's jaw tightened, but he didn't say anything.
Roscoe waited another beat, to see if Al would speak, then continued. "Could you explain, as clearly as possible, the nature of the transmutation by which you became a suit of armor?"
Alfons saw immediately where this line of questioning was going. Even though the prosecutor would no doubt bring alchemists to testify that there was Human Transmutation involved, hearing it from Al himself would carry more weight. Soul transmutation was uncommon enough to be unknown to most lay-alchemists, according to Mustang.
"I was not responsible for the transmutation." Al was speaking, his voice tight, his words carefully chosen not to incriminate, despite the fact that Edward had already declared his guilt. "I have nothing to say about it."
"As the subject of the transmutation, surely you can enlighten us."
"Overruled. This testimony is significant." The judges were intent, hanging on Al's answer.
Al bit his lip. His eyes flicked to Edward, and Alfons understood. There was no information to disclose. But Al knew enough to do damage, to reveal alchemy which should never be common knowledge. Al had to stay silent, which left him with only one option, and Alfons saw him reach that conclusion. Alfons had a sudden awful suspicion that nobody had told Edward beforehand, but it was too late now. Al squared his shoulders, looked straight ahead, and spoke stiffly.
"I have no memory of the transmutation or its results. It's common knowledge that I spent the last four years trying to recover those memories. I know nothing."
Roscoe looked disappointed, and opened his mouth to maybe ask something else, but was forestalled by Edward, who was on his feet. Suspicion confirmed: he had no clue. Alfons put his face in his hands.
"What the hell are you talking about?" Edward shouted. His guards tried to force him back into his seat, but he wouldn't be moved. "That's not true! Al!"
"Order in the courtroom," Justice Karelin said shortly. "Mr. Elric, return to your seat."
With some coaxing from Harris, Edward sat down slowly, his eyes fixed on Al's face. Waiting, Alfons knew, for some sign that Al was bluffing.
"Thank you," said Justice Karelin. "Mr. Roscoe, can you confirm the witness' claim of amnesia?"
After a moment of hesitation, Roscoe said, "I have no official knowledge either way, but it would be consistent with what I know about Alphonse Elric."
Edward was tugging insistently at Harris' sleeve, murmuring at him. Harris shook his head, but that only made Edward's voice grow louder.
"However," Roscoe continued, turning back to Al, "even if you have no memories of the time you spent in the armor, what can you tell us about the day of the transmutation?"
"Why didn't anyone tell me?" Edward's words were clearly audible.
"Silence from the defendant," Justice Castillo said, tapping her fingers in impatience.
Harris quieted him again, as Al spoke.
"I have no memories of that day," he said.
"Surely you can remember the days leading up to it. We have heard testimonies of a great transmutation which had occurred. Such alchemy is not conceived in a moment."
"As far as I can remember, we hadn't planned anything in particular, we were just studying my father's old books-" To Alfons, it was clear that the answer was coached, Al knew what he was doing. Edward cut in again anyway.
"This is bullshit!" he snarled. "Al, you gotta remember!"
"Silence!" said Justice Castillo. "This is your last warning!"
"Fuck you! " Edward struggled to his feet, ignoring Harris' objections at his side. "Al! Look at me, Al-" A guard attempted to force him into his seat, and Edward punched him in the face. Alfons leapt to his feet at that, but could do nothing as guards piled onto Edward, who fought as they bore him down, and yelled for Al even as they dragged him out of the courtroom.
"We will adjourn for the day," Justice Castillo said, and shook her head.
Quiet echoed through the room as Alfons tried to pull his wits together. Nobody was available to help; Mustang looked grim, and Winry was surreptitiously wiping at her eyes. Other people, the ones Alfons didn't know and some he did, filed out of the courtroom wordlessly. Al had left the witness stand, but stood frozen, staring blankly at where Edward had so recently sat.
Mustang strode over to where Harris was cramming his papers into his briefcase heedless of the creases that would surely result.
"Ed should have known," he snapped.
"I thought you had told him," Harris retorted, distracted. "I didn't consider-"
"I thought Al would!"
Both of them paused to shoot Al slightly accusing glances before Harris rushed after the guards who had taken Edward. Alfons wanted to follow, but knew that now wasn't the time.
"This is ridiculous," Mustang muttered.
Bailiffs were clearing the room, so Alfons headed to the exit on leaden feet, joining Mustang and Winry. Outside, the sun was incongruously bright, and the breeze had a hint of warmth to it. Alert reporters, having gotten wind of something happening were closing in, but Alfons ignored them. He could think of nothing but the look on Edward's face, a blow too soon after his discovery of Al and Alfons' mutual dislike of each other. He should have told Edward, or at least made sure that he knew.
Nothing was going right. But then, Edward would say that nothing in his life ever went right, and Alfons was starting to believe it. Damn it, what was Edward's plan? How could he hope to beat this? How many more blows could he take before he lost the will to fight?
Something made him turn back, and he saw Al standing in the doorway, looking dazed. Al met his eyes – a startling occurrence in and of itself – and took a few steps forward. Alfons watched warily.
"I panicked," Al said. "I couldn't think of anything else to say. I can't testify against him. I – I can't let them use something I said to hurt him. I just wanted to get away."
"I know," Alfons said, uncertain what exactly Al expected of him. "I couldn't think of an alternative, either. But you should have told him earlier."
"Did you see his face?" Al asked, as if Alfons had seen something other than the pain clearly written on Edward's features. "I wasn't going to tell him about the memories. Not ever. He'd have been happier not knowing."
"It would have come out eventually," Alfons felt compelled to say, unsure if he was being at all reassuring.
"Whatever." Al shoved his hands in his pockets and pushed past Alfons. His ponytail bounced dejectedly with each step down from the courthouse.
The only bit of news they received that day was when Harris showed up to tell them that Edward was pretty torn up over the discovery, and was being uncooperative. As punishment for his behavior, he wasn't going to be allowed visitors that night or the next morning. Maybe longer. Gracia, perceiving the generally dejected mood, brought in takeout for dinner, which spared them all from cooking and cleanup.
"Maybe you can get in for an emergency automail tune-up?" Al suggested to Winry after they had all retired to the living room. They had put up a short pretense of reading, but none of them felt like it.
Winry closed her book with visible relief and shook her head. "It's too convenient. There's no way they'd buy it."
"What if Brother had some sort of accident?"
Winry's brows drew together, and some of the openness left her posture. "Al, this sounds like another one of your… really bad ideas," she said bluntly.
Alfons flinched, expecting an outburst which didn't come. Al just shook his head and pulled his knees to his chest, socked toes digging into the sofa cushion.
"I know," he said. "I just… can't stand leaving him there alone. I have to talk to him."
Winry shot Alfons an incredulous look, to which he shrugged. He hadn't been expecting the sudden change of heart, but he couldn't deny that it was welcome.
"Maybe we'll be able to see him tomorrow evening," Winry suggested. "If he behaves himself."
They spent the rest of the hours until bedtime poring over an atlas, wondering gloomily where they could relocate to.
The next day, Ed stayed in bed. Harris showed up alone in the courtroom, and was forced to announce that Ed was incapable of appearing before the court. He was distressed, Harris explained, over the revelation of his brother's amnesia. It was Harris' humble opinion that until Ed was permitted to talk to his brother, he would have little incentive to do things like getting out of bed and eating.
For Al, it was something of a relief, because he needed to see Ed, explain what was going on. Before Ed's return, he would have been confident that this was part of a stunt to buy time, but now Al wasn't so sure. The old Ed, the one he had known as a child, would definitely be capable of sulking dramatically in order to get what he wanted. But this new Ed was so very different.
He stole a glance at Alfons out of the corner of his eye, which confirmed his suspicions. From the way Alfons was chewing his lip, he very much believed that Harris was describing a genuine reaction or at least that there was a grain of truth in it. Al tried, and mostly failed, to imagine his brother shutting down, curling up in bed and waiting to be rescued. And yet, Alfons hadn't known any other Ed, he thought.
He could hear the judges agreeing to Harris' request, but Al was still thinking about Alfons. He thought about Alfons often, since that (oh god) argument they had had. He had to think, because most of the time he wasn't up to actually talking to him. The right thing to do, of course, would be to just say, I'm sorry, I was a bastard to you. But most days he could hardly bear to look himself in the eye, much less anybody else, so the words went unsaid.
So very much went unsaid.
A meeting with Ed was set for the afternoon, and Al thought hard about what he would say, what he would think. He wanted to do what was right for Ed, for once, since he had fucked up colossally so far. Since Alfons appeared to be right for Ed, he would have to accept that, or just make peace with that. Or accept that it was Ed's decision to make.
There were several hours until he was supposed to show up at the prison, so Al slunk out of the house, and made his way to Circle Park. He left his – Ed's – his red coat behind, wearing a nondescript brown jacket over plain black pants. Nobody recognized him among the throngs that still filled the park, and he was happy with that. Among the protesters he could see people strolling (though he wasn't sure what attraction the trampled, muddy paths held), walking their dogs, chatting. He wished he had somebody to talk to. But who could he ask? He had spent the last four years searching for Ed, not pursuing friendships. He had fantasized about Ed's return in great detail, but had no idea what to do once his plans had been thoroughly wrecked. (He knew, now, they had never had a chance).
He was very used to not trusting others with his thoughts. Ed probably wouldn't be very pleased with how he had turned out.
Al sank down on a bench, which promptly began soaking the seat of his pants. He should have moved, but he couldn't muster the energy to. It was just damp; he had been wetter.
He hadn't expected Ed to fall in love with another guy. Not that it bothered him so much in principle, but it was just one more place where his dreams of the future didn't mesh with reality. He'd probably never be an uncle. He hadn't spent much time thinking about being an uncle, but now he felt a sense of loss. A bit of a waste of good genetic material, too.
But, he corrected himself quickly, Ed was happy, which was more important. And Alfons was….
Alfons was hopelessly in love. Enough that he had given up his entire world to be with Ed. He was kind and devoted and decently intelligent. He appeared to be used to countering Ed's tendencies to go on guilt trips.
When he tried to be unbiased about it, he could admit that there was a lot about Alfons that he would probably approve of in Ed's potential mate. Somebody who could take care of Ed when Al wasn't around to do it.
And just as he was starting to feel marginally more cheerful about the whole thing, his mind spiraled back to the fact that he and Alfons looked alike. More alike than Ed's brother and lover should be.
Even if he tried to make himself accept it, there was a curling unease inside his stomach that he couldn't escape. He wished he could, because he wanted this feeling to go away. He wanted to be content and happy with his life, happy for his brother.
Maybe if he pretended hard enough, he could convince himself one day. Because he would have to pretend; he couldn't burden his brother with this.
Al glanced at his watch – a plain wristwatch, no pocketwatches for him – and saw there was still time. He would eat something, he decided. Throughout the quick meal, counting down the hours until the appointed time, he reminded himself that he would do the right thing.
Then he was standing in front of Ed's prison, and he forced his thoughts to silence. It was time to put them into action.
Ed had been waiting for him. His brother, who was now coming towards him with sharp, jerky footsteps, looked like he hadn't slept a wink. His hair was stringy and dishevelled, eyes bloodshot in a face that was drooping around the edges.
"Not here," he said as Al was opening his mouth to speak. Ed went to take him by the wrist, to lead Al to his room at the back, but aborted the movement at the last minute. Instead, he just held his arms close to his own body, and Al followed silently.
How quickly they had gotten used to Ed seeing again, he thought, as he regarded Ed's stiff back.
Ed pushed the latchless door closed behind them, and gestured for Al to sit on the bed. There was nowhere else to sit, anyway. Al hesitated briefly at the rumpled state of it, couldn't help but think of his brother and Alfons–
He dropped to the cheap sheets, hands folded in his lap in a pretense of calm. Ed should have sat down next to him, but started pacing back and forth instead. Silence was heavy between them, and Al didn't know how to break it. Apologizing to Ed should be as natural as breathing, calming his brother should be second nature, but he didn't know how, anymore.
"I'm sorry," Ed said, his voice uncharacteristically meek. He stopped before Al, but wouldn't raise his head, and his hands clenched at his sides.
"You don't need to be," Al burst out, because this he could deal with, this he could fix. "Brother, I should have told you the truth-"
"You were trying to protect me," Ed said, which made Al lose his train of thought in wonder that his brother knew him so well, remorse that he couldn't reciprocate.
He answered anyway. "Of course I was!" He still didn't stand up, but his eyes were trained on Ed's face, his entire body quivering with the intensity.
Ed didn't seem to be hearing him. "I have to fix it," he said. The resolve gave him courage to look up, meet Al's eyes. Al's breath caught at the burning intensity of them, and he knew this was what Ed had been like all those years ago, this was the fire that had nearly consumed both of them.
In a voice close to a whisper, Ed continued. "I think I can do it. I had to have you come."
Do it. "You can do alchemy again?" Al breathed, and was terrified at his brother's imperceptible nod. If Ed could do alchemy, there was nothing to stop him from-
"I can't send Alfons back." His brother was pacing again, flesh fingers buried in his hair, agitated. "I don't think he would survive. I definitely wouldn't." He turned, nearly stumbling.
If Alfons could survive, Al knew, Ed would have done it. In that little concrete room, with his brother before him, Al felt like he was drowning. How had he ever let Ed decide to 'fix' things, all those years ago? How heartless had he been, how selfish, to watch Ed tear himself apart day after day, chasing a hopeless goal?
"But I can fix your memories." Ed was watching him now, hopeful, looking for a sign. Waiting for Al to say it was okay. "I should have known, this is why I survived. So I could complete the transmutation."
"No," Al said, stood up, and crossed his arms over his chest. "You survived so I would have a brother again. You're not sacrificing yourself." He had to be strong, and not allow his quivering knees to buckle. Had to be the brother he was meant to be.
But Ed was shaking his head. His left hand wrapped around his automail wrist, probably an unconscious gesture. "It's too late, Al," he said hoarsely. "I want it to mean something, at least." He laughed, a grating, raspy sound. "Alfons will never forgive me."
"I'll never forgive you," Al snapped. What was too late? "If you're talking about losing this damned trial –" And what was the strategy, what was Ed's idea if he hardly wanted to try at all? But he couldn't badger now, not when Ed was talking like this.
"The trial doesn't matter anymore. It can't change the outcome. That's why I have to do this."
Al grabbed him by the shoulders, the metal unyielding and uncomfortable under his hand, and shook his brother. Ed was stronger than he had expected, and Al realized from the look on his face that he wasn't used to Al being shorter than him.
Yet another way in which Al wasn't who he was supposed to be, but he didn't care.
"You're a goddamned idiot," he hissed. "Don't you dare try alchemy on me-" and he saw, saw the tumbling of gears in Ed's mind, saw Ed conclude that it was because Al no longer trusted him to get a transmutation right, and couldn't continue the sentence, his throat choked with horror.
He understood then that Alfons had been right; there were very few things Ed didn't feel guilty about.
He let go, slowly, of his brother's shoulders, and Ed just stood there. Al didn't know what to say. Didn't know what the old him would have said, but the old him had failed to save his brother.
"I'm so tired of fucking up." Ed was looking at the floor, again. "I'll never make things right, and I'm sorry, Al, I'm sorry. I fucked up your life, and I fucked up your memories, and I fucked up Alfons' life…. I'll fix it. I'll give whatever it takes. I'm not afraid."
He looked terrified.
"What," Al said bitterly, "you think you're the only one who fucked up with alchemy? You want to talk about screwing me over?" Maybe it was an Elric thing, to hurt their brothers.
Right then and there, Al told him everything. About the strange alchemy he could do with his soul, how sometimes he clapped and the world slid into focus. How he had pushed his soul into Ed, and felt his pain reverberating through his mind. How the attempt at communication in prison had ended in disaster.
"Wait, wait." Now Ed was the one holding on to him, his automail fingers bruising Al's arm. "The voice in prison, that was you? It was really you?"
Ed… should have been betrayed, should have been more bothered by Al's prying around in his mind. Maybe later he would be, but now Ed looked hopeful.
"Yeah," Al said around a dry tongue. Ed stared at him, fire banked in the golden eyes searching his face, before he dropped his hands in bemusement.
"That's…." Ed stepped away, lost in thought. "If that was you, then…" He looked back up, and sort of smiled. "It wasn't a hallucination."
Ed had thought it was a symptom of insanity. All this time.
"Leave my memories," he said. Best strike while the iron was hot, and Ed was listening. "We'll make new ones. We have a lifetime." He tried, very hard, to infuse his words with a conviction he himself didn't quite feel. He must have met with at least partial success, because Ed hadn't retreated, and was still considering.
"But if you don't remember," Ed hesitated, "how did you know where to look for me?"
"I didn't," Al replied. "I just believed you were still alive. I knew it."
Ed started pacing again, but this time his steps were wandering, and his gaze unfocused. Mostly, he looked confused, wrestling with his own thoughts. Al had to focus to keep himself still, and finally couldn't help but ask what Ed was thinking.
"If you had remembered what had happened that day," Ed said slowly, looking at Al as if for confirmation, "you might have been convinced I was dead."
But what happened, Al wanted to scream. He didn't, because he couldn't ruin this moment: when Ed was fighting with himself, trying to see Al's loss of memory as something positive, something he didn't have to feel guilty over.
No matter how much Al wanted those lost memories back, he would never say it. He would never ruin this.
"And Alfons," he blurted, though it was out of the blue. "He makes you happy, right? He's good for you. Keep him."
It was the right thing to do, he knew. The hope that spread across Ed's face was worth it. Even if he lost his brother – but then, when Ed threw his arms around him in a tight hug – he sort of had him back. They would never go back to what they had been, who they had been, and for the first time Al wondered if that wasn't okay. If maybe they couldn't have something new, something better. Truly move forward, for once, instead of forever looking back.
"I'll win the trial," Ed said into his hair. "For you."
It was the plural you, Al would stake his life on it. Maybe, someday, he would get used to it.
Back to part 1