Race Ulfson (raceulfson) wrote in fma_fic_contest,
Race Ulfson

Prompt 359: Goodbye "Goodbye Stranger, It's Been Nice"

Title: Goodbye Stranger, It's Been Nice
Author: RaceUlfson
Series: Post CoS
Word Count: 2323 without header
Rating: G if you don’t mind a little cussing
Characters: Ed & Al
Summary: And I will go on shining/Shining like brand new/I'll never look behind me/My troubles will be few
Warnings: Spoilers only if you haven’t seen the end of the CoS and the first series.
Author’s Note: I reference Prompt 38 here, which was my first contribution to this wonderful community. Goodbye, everyone, I will miss you.

Have you ever searched for something for so long, so very long, that when you finally find it you can’t believe it?

I read it again. I checked my translation. I tried every variation of every sub text to make sure I wasn’t just seeing what I wanted to see. I rubbed my eyes; I pinched myself. It couldn’t be. We were trapped here on this strange, muted, alchemy-less planet forever. I knew that.

And I knew, knew, I’d found the right formula. That we could open the gate without killing someone. That we could go home. I knew it in my heart, which was trying to thunder out of my chest. I knew it in my lungs, which suddenly stopped working. I knew it in my soul.

We were going home.

I scrambled to my feet, the book clutched to my chest.

“You have found what you were seeking,” the shop owner, Mr Gao said. He was kind enough to let me browse and read his books on premises, since Brother and I did not make enough money lecturing to afford rare Xingian – er, Chinese block printed books. I realized there was no way I could pay for this one.

“Mr Gao, if you could lend me a brush and ink?”

“My purpose is to sell books. To distribute knowledge, but with a profit. Not to allow bits and pieces to be copied. Buy the book.”

I shook my head sorrowfully. “I don’t have the money.”

Mr Gao looked me over. “You want to take the book now, and bring me the money tomorrow?” He said it like he might actually let me do it. In the back, his granddaughter was making tea and eavesdropping. She shook her head disapprovingly. Of the two, she was the better business manager.

I took a deep breath. “If you hold the book for me, I will go and find the money now.” I couldn’t help the smile that broke out. “We won’t be here, tomorrow.”

It hadn’t taken me long after I arrived on Earth to realize two things:

One, that Brother was a big liar when he said that now I was with him he had everything he wanted, because it was patently obvious he hated it there.

I could understand why. It wasn’t home, there was no alchemy, and the familiar faces were not on familiar people. And don’t get me started about the attitudes towards women. It was hard to play along and pretend seeing a young woman’s knees was a thrill when we’d certainly seen a lot more of Winry and the other girls back home. The newspapers and magazines made big deals out of women wearing trousers, working as mechanics, shooting guns, like it was shocking or something. Brother and I were just mystified.

(The whole planet smelled funny, too. I’m sorry, but it did. I think it’s the weird petroleum based fuels in the internal combustion engines. )

Two, that Earth was slowly killing Brother.

It sort of made sense. There were plenty of local legends about (small) golden people who visited from other(fairy/magic) lands and who could not live without their home magic(alchemy). Plus Earth’s gravity was heavier and dragged down more on both of us, but on Brother’s prosthetic ports particularly. Father’s attempts and Winry’s brilliant designs could not compensate for the gradual changes to Brother’s body as he matured and aged, and while they were still better than nothing, the prosthetics didn’t fit well and caused Brother a lot of pain. He drank when the pain was bad, an improvement over our experiments with morphine and other opiates (Brother went wild) but it was tedious to constantly drag him out of bar fights.

It took me a couple years to figure out Brother might be missing a person more than alchemy. It just increased the pressure to find us a way home.

The hard part was going to be convincing Brother.

The first difficulty would be talking Brother into releasing the funds.

Brother had no sense of money, which isn’t exactly the same as no money sense, although I’m not sure he had any of that, either. He was ruined by being a State Alchemist, because our government thought giving a twelve year old boy tens of thousands of cenz was a great idea. Colonel Mustang wisely controlled Brother’s funds, giving us both a generous allowance and the rest going for research. Being an alchemist himself, the Colonel never refused a request for books or travel but somehow he and Brother fought constantly over expenses. I think the Colonel wanted us to refrain from redecorating entire towns, while Brother took it to mean Mustang was so cheap we had to travel coach and sleep on benches. The end result was that Brother would give away our entire fortune for a book or to help someone, but he begrudged paying for a second cup of coffee.

I was no better, being a naturally generous person and concerned about those about me with less. Or as Brother put it, “a damn bleeding heart soft touch stray gathering philanthropist who was intent on beggaring his only brother who sacrificed so…” He really talks too much once he gets going.

We compromised. I gave Brother all my pay and he doled out an allowance to me and hoarded the rest. He gave me all his pay and I gave him reasonable living expenses and saved the rest for him. We wouldn’t spend each other’s money, you see.

The book was very expensive, and would mean dipping into our combined savings, and Brother would balk at me spending my money on anything he felt was for him. I needed that book, it would help convince Brother. He liked outside sources to support what he called “your wild ideas”. I preferred the term ‘intuitive leaps’, personally.

On the other hand, it was a book, and Brother loved books. For all his talk about traveling light, our luggage weighed a ton.

The second, harder part would be getting Brother let me try to open the Gate.

Brother simply could not allow himself to invest in anything that wasn’t scientific fact or at least a promising theory. While back home I had the comfort of knowing if things got bad enough Brother would simply clap out another miracle, Brother got through all he survived with nothing but gritty determination and a brilliant scientific mind. And a certain amount of dumb luck, which, since it couldn’t be quantified, Brother dismissed as irrelevant.

The point being, while many, including me, pinned their hopes on Brother, Brother himself had no faith at all. He didn’t trust most people and he certainly didn’t trust any gods. Brother didn’t even know how to hope.

If I couldn’t convince Brother with math and alchemy and science, he would never allow me to risk the array.

I lept off the cable car and ran down the street to the little house we were renting. All the time I was ordering arguments, arranging facts, and hoping. I hoped Brother was in a good mood. I hoped he was sober. I hoped Brother would listen and not force me to use Plan B, which involved chloral hydrate and a large sack.

Brother was not quite sober, which was not a bad place to start. I could hear him shouting from the curb as I turned up the front walkway. “And I’m telling you it bloody damn well is both particle and wave and if you don’t think Compton is going to get the Nobel you – … Harvard my ass, Duane knew by Twenty-three, Twenty-four-”

“Busy educating the Telephone Operators I hear, Brother.” I tsked. He knew I meant expanding their cursing vocabulary as most of the physics was surely over their heads.

He grinned and toasted me with a bottle before taking a swig. Which was nearly spit all over me and the desk in reaction to whatever was said over the line. “My calculations? My math is beautiful, perfect. What you object to is Compton’s.”

Taking advantage of the distraction, I raided the sugar canister where we stashed our funds. I walked quickly past Brother, explaining, “Need a book.”

He waved me on, still talking on the telephone. I hoped the call was initiated by the other party, otherwise our bill would be enormous. And we wouldn’t be here to pay it.

“Yeah, well I hate milk and it’s still a tragic daily fact. Here’s a hint for you, Philo – don’t take the rent money, it’s due next week, Al – no, not that, asshole, that was my brother, buying books or more likely feeding stray cats again – no, what I got for you, is-”

An hour later I had the little book safely tucked in my inner coat pocket. That only left persuading Brother to let me do the array.

I stopped by a pharmacy for chloral hydrate, just in case.

I waited until the next morning when Brother was hungover and vulnerable. I showed him array I had sketched out.

He studied it, set it aside, and poured himself a cup of coffee.

“Brother,” I said, the same time he said, “Al…”

We looked at each other. I took out the book, showed him the passage. Waited while he translated it, and confirmed his translation with mine. “We can do it, Brother. We can open the Gate without hurting anyone, not even ourselves.”

Brother shook his head. “Al. It’s theory, it’s untested, it’s in a what, 400 year old book from a junk shop in San Francisco. It’s a good array, but…”

“But nothing, that is a great array, a wonderful array, there is nothing wrong with my array!”

That got me a quick smile. “But alchemy doesn’t work here.” He looked so tired, and sad. Defeated.

“I want to try it.”

He shook his head again. “No, the risk is too great.”

Just like I knew the array would work, I knew Brother would die here, sooner than later, if I didn’t force him to let me try. Suddenly I knew the winning argument.

“Brother. I want to go home.”

I didn’t have to use the chloral hydrate after all.

We took the new motor carriage route down to Stinson Beach and loitered until dark. If the array rebounded, we wanted to be far enough out that no one else would get hurt. I was giddy with excitement but Brother was withdrawn and unnaturally quiet. He let me sketch the array, although habit made him correct one of my already perfect symbols. We stood on either side of the circle, staring at each other.

“I did the math, I checked my math, I checked the array, you checked the array, you checked the math.” Best get all the obvious objections over with in the beginning.

“Al… I know you want to go home. I never should have kept you here, with me, all these years.”

I put my hands on my hips. “Oh, you knew how to open the Gate the whole time?” If he did, I was going to punch him right in the nose. I was going to beat him to a pulp.

“Well, of course. You just have to sacrifice-”

“That is a no, then.” Brother’s nose would remain unbloodied, good.

He gave me his sheepish little 'okay, you win' shrug and grin. Then he took a deep breath. “If this doesn’t work-”

“It will work.”

“If this doesn’t work,” Brother repeated, slightly louder, “don’t come back for me. Stay there, live your life, be happy. Okay?”

I took a few deep breaths, too. Then I pointed off to the side of the array. “Do you see that large canvas bag? Do you know why it’s here? Because if you don’t cooperate, I am going to cram you into it, tie it closed, and carry your stupid ass home like a PIG IN A POKE.” I might have been shouting a bit by the end.

That startled a laugh out of Brother. “You know what they really mean about buying a pig in a poke, don’t you? Sometimes, when the farmer got home and opened up the sack, there was a wildcat inside.”

Through gritted teeth I replied, “That’s only a problem if you intend to let it out.”

Brother laughed again. “Okay, Al, you win. Let’s do this.”

The array worked perfectly except I forgot a few tiny details. Like where we would land. The array sought out like to like and deposited us on soft white sands beside a brilliant blue ocean. Our impact managed to eradicate a few sand dunes, terrify much of the local fauna, and get sand in places sand had no business being. We didn’t care. We were home!

But it would have been better if we’d landed in Amestris instead of Aerugo.

Our feet didn’t even turn off the path when we passed the ruins of the old house. Home was the Rockbell Clinic and Auntie and Winry and Den. It had been for years, and we both knew it and didn’t even have to discuss it.

And it was worth it, all we’d been through and seen and suffered and had to do – it was worth it when Winry tackled us to the ground. Muscles and bones and half healed wounds aching, we lay in the grass with Winry on top of us smelling like sunshine and machine oil and I laughed and maybe cried a little because it was all over at last.

Den barked like a maniac, then gave up with a disgusted huff and flopped across our legs, tangling in Winry’s leather work apron and pinning Ed by his bad knee. Our laughter lost the sweet painful edge of joy and dissolved into silly giggles. Finally Auntie Pinako dried her eyes on her apron, dragged Den off of us, and scolded us all for rolling around in the dirt like piglets.

We were home at last.

Tags: prompt 359, raceulfson

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