It was after midnight and Al was alone with his thoughts in their hotel room on route back to Central to report in to see whatever it was Colonel Mustang needed for them to see. Nothing important, I’d bet my life on it, Al! The son of bitch just wants to make things hard – or so his brother had ranted when they first got on the train.
Now, Ed slept restlessly, almost as if his sleeping mind picked up on Al’s whirling thoughts. Al couldn’t sleep, hadn’t done so since the day it happened. Being unable to sleep gave him time to think – too much time – not to mention time to study - his head felt full for it was an empty helmet. All he wanted was a rest.
Instead, he listened to the howling autumn winds lashing the windows as if trying to break in. Ed had moaned about how cold it was getting. Al knew the chill crept up his brother’s automail causing aches where metal met skin. Was it cold where his body was, Al wondered? Was there any comfort there? What little he remembered of being beyond the Gate before Ed yanked his soul back and anchored it suggested it was a nothingness realm, sort of like a locked windowless room, no air movement, no extremes of any kind.
Maybe that was a blessing. Occasionally Al thought he felt his body wherever it was beyond the Gates, aware of its subtle aches and pains. A few terrifying times he thought that his body was failing. He hadn’t told his brother yet. Ed already bore so much guilt and they couldn’t work on the problem any harder or faster than they were already.
Al didn’t mind detouring back to Central. Mustang wouldn’t waste their time. He understood instinctively what they was facing. Somehow, he’d know what Al and Ed had done without being told. They’d been too traumatized at the time to realize what that meant but now Al understood that Mustang’s alchemical knowledge was broader than Ed credited him for. Al wondered if the colonel had considered bringing someone back to life himself, maybe after the war, maybe to bring back a loved one. After all, he and Ed knew next to nothing of the colonel’s non-public life. Obviously, Mustang hadn’t performed the transmutation. Ed guessed it was because Mustang hadn’t figured it out fully. Al suspect it was because the Colonel had discovered the penalties for doing it and had the wisdom to abandon the quest.
Ed might grumble about the colonel, but Al knew he was just as happy Mustang hadn’t abandoned them then and there in Resembool. They’d had long discussions about what their lives would be like if one of the scarier State Alchemists had claimed Ed as a subordinate. Al didn’t doubt he’d be locked away in a warehouse somewhere while Ed was forced to do who knew what horrible deeds.
They had gotten extraordinarily lucky with Mustang. Ed just couldn’t admit it. The men were too much alike. Al had contemplated giving Mustang a kitten to say thank you but didn’t know how it would be taken.
Ed flopped over in his sleep mumbling something as he kicked off the blankets. Al covered him back up. He hoped Mustang had something that would take them further down the road to their goal. They’d get their bodies back on one day. Al couldn’t allow himself to doubt. If he did, he feared he might just drift away, his soul fading to nothingness. No doubts, that was the way to live.