Title: Watcher
Author: Jordanna Morgan (librarie@jordanna.net)
Archive Rights: Please request the author’s consent.
Rating/Warnings: G.
Characters: Alphonse and Edward.
Setting: General.
Summary: Alphonse likes to watch people.
Disclaimer: They belong to Hiromu Arakawa. I’m just playing with them.
Notes: Created for the prompt word “Station” at Fan Flashworks. This was written completely off the cuff, from nothing more than the idea of “Al watches people in a train station”, so I’m rather pleased with how the narrative ultimately came together.

 

Watcher

 

For many travelers, having to wait at a station between trains was a dull prospect. It was an added burden upon the existing stresses of travel, a delay to be merely suffered as yet another time-wasting obstacle between them and their destination. People had things to do, appointments to keep, and train schedules rarely ever fell neatly into line with those agendas. Especially for long journeys to remote towns, it wasn’t uncommon to face a layover of several hours.

Certainly, Alphonse Elric knew it was an annoyance to his elder brother Edward—the very embodiment of impatience. There were few things Ed hated more than having to sit and do nothing. He would invariably mutter the same litany of complaints before he flopped down on the nearest bench, wrapped himself in his coat, and took a nap.

(Which was kind of amazing in itself, with all the noise in a train station. Others marveled at just where the lean teenager managed to tuck away so much food, but Al knew the real wonder was how Ed could sleep just about anywhere he wanted to. …But then, learning to sleep in a tree to avoid the masked brute who once menaced them on Yock Island may have had something to do with that.)

In any case, the forced downtime probably did Brother some good. As for Al himself, with his soul ever wakeful in his shell of armor, physical rest was irrelevant for him… but sometimes, he did need a way to simply clear his head.

So often when the pair went to catch a train, they were putting another crisis or conflict behind them. Usually, with their efforts, Ed’s missions or the random problems they just stumbled into managed to end well; but getting to that resolution could be emotionally trying, all the same. Al had seen many terrible things in his young life, and unlike Ed, he didn’t have the filter of sleep to help distance himself from the memories.

Instead, he made it a point to fill his mind with other thoughts. Colorful, unimportant ones that didn’t lead him back to darker contemplations—and he had found that the busy crowdedness of a train station was an ideal place to find those distractions.

That big lady in the loud dress, with the teddy bear hanging out of her bag. Maybe she’s going to visit a niece—or maybe she’s going to give it to her dog. …Yeah, she looks like someone who’d have a poodle.

Al made a game of it. Even when travelers appeared to have completely mundane objectives, he tried to spin the most far-fetched scenarios he could. The private chuckle he got out of these internal narratives helped him dispel less welcome thoughts.

The man who keeps looking down at his briefcase, even though he hasn’t let go of it this whole time. Maybe he’s a jewel smuggler. The one in that ring he’s wearing is gaudy enough. And how about the way his handkerchief is folded all crooked in his pocket? Maybe that’s a signal to the fence he’s going to sell the jewels to.

In his people-watching, Al experienced one of the more obscure advantages of his armor. No one could tell he was watching them very intently, or even staring. He could observe a person as long as he wanted, without seeming nosy or impolite. It took him a while to overcome his natural shyness and take advantage of this benefit, but now he was comfortable in letting his gaze linger. So he took his time, studying every detail of people’s faces and clothes and the things they carried.

And sometimes, the things they lacked instead.

I recognize the way that man is walking. His left leg is automail… just like Brother’s.

Of course, his massive frame slouching beside Ed’s small, snoozing figure earned a fair amount of stares in turn. He saw the way some people even deliberately steered well clear of the bench where he sat. It was a little bit awful of him, but on occasion, he couldn’t help countering those reactions with unflattering thoughts of his own.

Huh, that guy doesn’t like the look of me at all. He keeps glancing back over here, looking nervous. With those shifty eyes and twitchy hands of his, maybe he’s a pickpocket, and he’s afraid I’m watching him. …I mean, really, he’s probably just another person who’s surprised to see something like me in the station… but maybe?

More often than not, though, Al’s kind heart preferred to spin more positive tales about the passersby. He wanted to imagine that other people found happy endings to their journeys—even when he and Ed were still searching for their own.

No bags for that girl with the pearl brooch, and she keeps checking her watch. She’s not traveling; she’s just here to meet someone. Maybe it’s her boyfriend. Maybe he’s coming home from the military, and they’ll finally be able to get married.

In this way, Alphonse was able to chase away the nagging stresses of whatever latest battle the brothers were leaving behind. However, now and then, he would glimpse something that stirred the thought of the greater struggle they still faced: something that reminded him of why they were far from home, and what Brother was seeking so determinedly to reclaim for him.

The chocolate bar that boy is eating looks like it has nuts in it. …Do I even remember the way chocolate tastes anymore? I know I used to like it so much… but it’s so hard to imagine the memory of a taste in just my mind alone, without a body that can feel things.

As the young boy trailed along after his mother, Al’s helmet slowly swiveled, following them across the waiting area of the station with a faint pang of wistful jealousy. In the process, Edward came into his field of view—and he gave a rattling start as he suddenly realized Ed was awake. His amber eyes were open and deep, gazing up at his armored sibling in pensive silence.

Only then did Al realize that as he was watching other people, his big brother was watching him… and quite possibly reading more through his blank steel than Al would ever read in the expressiveness of flesh.

“Someday, Al,” Ed promised in a whisper, and his automail hand reached out, coming to rest on Al’s shoulder with a faint clink of metal against metal. “Someday soon.”


© 2016 Jordanna Morgan