Alphonse sits in the blank whiteness, feeling the nothing of the place. He doesn’t bother to move, because his body is tired, and because there’s nowhere to go, and because if he went somewhere else, Brother might not be able to find him when he comes. Alphonse amuses himself by telling himself stories; closing his eyes and imagining people and places that he’s known or just imagined.
When he opens his eyes, it takes him a little while to realize that he isn’t imagining this time.
“Hello,” the woman says, and she has a friendly smile.
“Hello,” Alphonse says, his voice creaky with disuse. She doesn’t look like Truth, and she definitely isn’t Ed. He thinks that perhaps he should get up, offer her a handshake. As he tenses to rise, she stops him.
“It’s okay,” she says. “I just thought I’d sit with you for a little while.” She sits down next to him, crossing her legs.
“My body isn’t very strong,” he apologizes shyly. “I left it here for a while, and it’s not doing very well. Brother does what he can, but there’s only so much he can eat in a day.” He doesn’t explain himself, but she seems to understand.
“That’s alright,” she says.
“I’m Alphonse,” he offers, politely. He wishes suddenly that he weren’t naked, but there’s nothing he can do about it. He blushes, his face going hot, and the sensation of it is glorious.
She isn’t naked; she’s actually dressed sort of like Brother, in black jeans and a black shirt. Her hair is dark, and her skin is pale. “I know,” she says, smiling. “Alphonse Elric. I’m jumping the gun a little, here. I don’t know whether you’re coming with me or not, but I thought it might be nice to spend a little time with you. I don’t come here often, you know? Most of the time, when people die, they’re just dead. They don’t get stuck in between like this. I’m sorry; this has got to suck.”
“Am I dead?” Alphonse asks, afraid. His heart is pumping, and there is adrenaline flowing in his blood. He doesn’t feel dead.
“Not yet,” she says, smiling. She looks very old suddenly, but her smile is comforting. “You’re just very close. Almost in my realm, but not quite.”
“He will come for me,” Alphonse insists.
“Maybe,” she says. “Maybe I’m waiting here for him. Or maybe I’ll leave empty-handed. My older brother knows, but I don’t.”
“You have an older brother?” Alphonse asks.
She smiles, and nods. “He’s a quiet one; not like your brother.”
“No,” Alphonse agrees, smiling, “He isn’t quiet at all.” He cocks his head, looking at her. “You’re prettier than I thought you’d be,” he says, softly. “I’m glad. I always thought Death was awful and frightening, but if it’s you- that’s not so bad.”
“Not everyone feels that way,” she says, ruefully.
“It’s not me I was worried about,” he assures her. “I mean, I’d rather stay alive. Brother and Winry would miss me, and I think that Mei might never forgive me if I don’t come back. But I was just thinking about my Mom, and Auntie and Uncle Rockbell, and Brigadier-General Hughes, and Nina and Alexander.”
She nods, and smiles. “Hey, Alphonse,” she says, “Would you like to hear a joke?”
Alphonse cocks his head. “I suppose so,” he says.
She grins at him. She has a nice smile. “Okay, why did the rooster fall out of the tree?”
Alphonse stares at her. Her eyes are dark and laughing. “Um,” he says.
“Guess!” she urges him.
Alphonse shrugs. “It was drunk?”
She shakes her head. “Because it was dead,” she informs him, her eyes twinkling. “Why did the monkey fall out of the tree?”
“It was dead?” Alphonse says, still staring.
“No,” she says. “It was stapled to the rooster. Okay, why did the elephant fall out of the tree?”
Alphonse is not at all sure what to make of this. “It... was stapled to the monkey?” he offers.
“No,” she insists. “Because it’s an elephant.” Her tone of voice makes this sound like the most reasonable answer in all the world.
Alphonse remembers visiting the circus when he was twelve and seeing the elephant parade around the ring. He remembers being amazed by the exotic creature; it was so large, and he’d never seen anything like its trunk. Ed liked the sword swallowers better, but he still helped Al sneak backstage for a better look at the elephant. Alphonse imagines the elephant up in a tree. He smiles, and then snickers, and then laughs.
She laughs with him, her voice light and clear. “It’s a stupid joke,” she says, cheerfully. “But I’m glad you got a laugh out of it.”
“I don’t know many jokes,” Alphonse says, shyly. “Brother and I mostly studied alchemy. I guess you knew that, though- that’s why I’m here, isn’t it?”
She shrugs. “You’re mostly here because you tried to open my realm,” she says. “You’re not the first one to try, of course. It never ends well.” She cocks her head at him. “You and your brother were younger than most.”
Alphonse looks at her nervously. “Were you angry with us?” he asks, meekly. “Was it you who punished us?”
She shakes her head. “It wasn’t a punishment,” she says. “Not like you mean. If you stick your hand in a fire, you get burned- but no one’s punishing you.”
Alphonse nods. “I’m sorry,” he tells her, and it’s true. He remembers his brother, bleeding to death in front of him. He remembers the horror in the Colonel’s eyes. He remembers the thing they made, remembers being inside it.
She smiles. “I know,” she says. “It’s almost over, though. One way or another, you’ll leave here soon.”
“Oh,” he says, stretching his arms out. “I feel like I’ve been waiting here a very long time. It will be nice to go somewhere else.” The words almost feel as though they come from someone else, and he wonders if his soul and his body haven’t quite meshed together yet.
She stands up suddenly, and steps to the side, and then there’s light.
His brother is coming for him. He’s sure of it.