Prompt: Edward, Alphonse, Winry, a change in relationships.
Title: Second To The Right
Summary: Death has a way of changing people.
Rating: K+, for minor swear and talk of death
A/N: Written for evil_little_dog for help_haiti, requested ages ago. Title is a reference to Peter Pan. Sorry this took me so long! I've had some of the images in my head for quite some time, it just took a while to put together. This probably isn't quite what you had in mind, but I hope you still like it!
As far back as he can remember, they were together.
Where memories of his father are fuzzy, he has clear remembrance of them, all together. Waking up to find his brother and Winry curled up by him, getting in fights and laughing, memories of brightness.
Later, when he is in the armor and the colors have dulled, it is hard to remember such brightness existed.
He and his brother loved Winry. He didn’t know when it began, but rather thought it was like a mother looking at the first breaths of her newborn child; an instant feeling that could not be controlled, or forgotten.
He can also remember his mother watching them, auntie and uncle Rockbell close behind, throwing picnics, pulling them apart if need be.
Thinking back, there had been a similar closeness with their parents, and he wonders what his mother felt when the Rockbells died.
Winry had cried, then. He and Ed were there soon after, trying to make her smile. She’d yelled at them for a little while, and Ed had yelled back, and somehow (to this day Al had no idea how it had happened) the argument evolved into a full scale pillow and tickling fight. When she’d laughed, somehow, a hurt was made smaller.
He knew then, in the way a child knows that there will be food for dinner, that they were meant to be together. He could not imagine school without them, could not imagine living away from them.
But death has a way of changing people.
When their mother died, Winry had come to them. Like they had come to her. It would have been the same; shouting and tears that somehow led to laughter, but they hadn’t let her get close enough. It was the first time they pushed her away. It went beyond not letting her bandage their wounds; they never even let her get a look at them.
For the first time, things began to drift.
They saw her for dinner, at school, but there was less playing. Less laughter. No pillow fights.
Still, they were connected.
Winry was the first to defend them, and they her. She didn’t know the first thing about what they were doing, but knew what they liked to eat, what their favorite colors were, their favorite stories. Most of their secrets. That they knew all of hers didn’t follow with equivalent exchange, but they could make up for that once mom was back. That was what they told themselves, anyway.
For all of Ed’s complaining, he knew that it was just as difficult for him to cut Winry, even a little bit, out of their life.
Master Izumi taught them about life, but they didn’t listen to her talk of death. Still, when they returned to Resembool it was with the knowledge of life in their eyes. He saw it in Ed’s face, on his own; somehow their eyes seemed smaller, deeper, lined, because they knew what it was to starve and think they were going to die; knowledge that most adults didn’t even understand.
The frightening thing was, they saw the same understanding with her. It was different, of course, because she would never starve with granny, but she had held life in her hands, the way alchemists dreamed of; held their life and rolled the dice for how much longer they would be. Winry had felt people die; had seen them die while she could do nothing. She had kept trying anyway.
It showed a strength that made Al wonder; for they had not been there to make it easier, to hear her cry and hold her and compliment her strength. She had discovered it without them. No, that wasn’t it. She didn’t exactly know what her strength was, wasn’t sure it existed, but her strength had found her, before they ever knew theirs.
When everything changed, when they were torn apart and left screaming, it was Winry and granny they turned to, they needed. It was Winry and granny that built them up, that kept them safe, and they knew it, somewhere in their head and heart, that this was true, but they forgot it somehow, still. They knew Winry and granny would always be there, with the intangible knowledge that could not be explained.
Despite all of this, they left them again. Pushed them away.
They’d started it as children, and now once they’d started on that path, it became a habit, and then, a necessity.
Their own comfort was a small price to pay for their bodies, for her safety.
There were no letters, no phone calls. Al and Ed talked about her, about home, but all the words became so jumbled and bogged down with details that they fell away before they ever reached paper or a phone call.
Still, they talked about her. Not always in waking moments (the term didn’t apply to how Al had been, but it was the closest fit) though usually when weariness has settled in. The times when talk of alchemy faded and suddenly, they were talking about the time Winry and Pitt arm wrestled, and when they played knights on the hills and would win by pushing the other and watching them roll down the hill. It was a soothing thing, to think of her, of home, the things they thought they’d never have again.
And they were right about that, in a way, but also very wrong.
They would never have their mother again, never have their old house or their old lives, be children again. But there were some things they would never loose.
The homunculi brought a level of pulse pounding terror they had never known before, and suddenly, it was all they could do to keep Winry from their thoughts. She was everywhere, and with her came an ache of fear and longing and wondering, because how could they ever ever have not been good or not written or not told her what was going on. Maybe then she would have been safe. Maybe then the monsters would stay away from her.
She drifted from them this time. Working, living, while they kept searching. Kept fighting.
She saw more people die. So did they.
They were haunted by ghosts. Of Mr. Hughes, their mother; ghosts with dripping blood and smiles despite their pain- the ghosts of their failures.
Her eyes were deeper, now. No, she’d always known about life and death, even if her mind couldn’t quite think of the words. She’d faced her parent’s killer, and let him live. And lived with the knowledge in turn that he would help her, that he was sorry, that he would live when her parents never could again. But that was what she did. Winry gave lives to people; arms and legs, homes, understanding, bodies and love. She understood more about life and death than either of them for a long time.
They fought every day, and in a way, so did she.
She also had lines around her eyes. And when they came to her, broken, she had to clear a schedule to see them; because now there were people besides them for her to love, to build, to save.
She still saw to them. And she always made the time.
Ed changed, too. He looked at Winry, sometimes, and it wasn’t just that she was beautiful, or kind. It was something that Al couldn’t explain or see because never in a million years would Winry look back at him that way, and never would he see her like that to begin with. Suddenly there were blushes and stammers, staring that Ed tried to hide; touching whenever they could without thinking about it.
It was yet another thing that separated them.
Ed could feel her. Al couldn’t. Ed could love her the way their father had loved their mother, but Al could not. And Winry would love Ed the same way. Not Al.
It hurt, sometimes. Not out of jealousy, exactly, because he didn’t really want Winry that way. Not that he hadn’t thought about it, of course he did, but he didn’t want to marry Winry. It hurt because once they’d believed with all their hearts that they would be together in all things; live and die together because that was how it was meant to be. And now Winry and Ed had an exclusive together, one he would never be a part of. They would kiss and someday have sex (once Ed pulled the stick out of his ass) and Al would wait for his family to come back to him.
It took a while for him to realize it didn’t matter.
No matter how the other drifted, there was a line connecting them. No, a string. Al liked that idea. That they were tied together, and that though the string would stretch to breaking, it wouldn’t snap. They would still be tied together.
It was fitting, in a horrible, poetic sense, that as everything started with the death of their mother, it ought to end with the death of their father.
And it did. End, that is. Not their lives, or their journey, but that particular chapter. Their father dies so soon after they were ready to live again.
They returned to Resembool, and so much had changed.
Look, there’s the hills and the barn, but now there are a few more houses there, and new children play on the grass.
There’s where their house used to be. Flowers grow over the ashes.
And there, there is the Rockbell house. The paint is peeling. Den, Den has grey in her fur, and she runs more slowly.
Al walked the path now with a cane, his brother beside him, and like those other ghosts he could see clearly for a moment- three children, running, happy, together.
They are not children any more.
Death had changed them. Life had changed them, and love.
But when Winry saw them standing there, and tears of happiness filled her eyes and stung in his own, the pieces slid together.
Meant to be.
The three of them. For all time.
They had loved each other as children do, and as all children must do, they had grown up. No easy task. They had to bend, and find ways to get up again. Ways to walk forward.
She ran out to meet them and for a moment there is nothing else in the world but his brother’s laughter and Winry’s smile and arms and everything, everything, is right.
Somehow, he knows it will continue to be.
They walk forward, hand in hand.