Jul 14 2005, 08:48 PM
Friends and Lovers
Things you should know: “Finding the Catch” is a series of chronological events in the current timeline, six years after Edward disappears. All the other chapters take place at various times in the past. This fic contains series spoilers and sexual situations (but none in this part). Please enjoy.
Finding the Catch: A Long Awaited Return
The bright light was glaring in his eyes before he even realizes they were open. It’s the light you see when you die, he thought, briefly convinced he had not survived at all. Slowly the realization came to him that the bright light was sunlight, warm on his face and causing him to squint. He groaned, then flinched at the sound. Apparently he was alive after all. Gradually he became aware of the damp ground beneath him, and the sharp rocks jabbing into his backside. Slowly he turned his body on the ground and dragged himself to a standing position. Where was he?
Grass, dirt, rocks, trees, all familiar things, but which trees? Which grass? Was he in a forest? Not really, he decided. He could hear the noises of a city, or at least a town, and decided to follow them, focusing on getting out of the woods rather than exactly how he got into them in the first place.
He reached a path, which became a small dirt road, that became a small paved road entering a small town. There were people in the town who looked at him oddly, and he looked down at his metal right arm and rolled his sleeve back down. He had rolled it up, he recalled, because he was working on something. He fished his gloves out of his pocket and put them back on. There. Nothing unusual about him now.
Or was there? And furthermore, where was he again? “Excuse me,” he called to the passers by. A woman carrying a basket stopped and looked at him expectantly. “what is the name of this town?”
Her expression brightened. “Why, you’re in Dillon,” she answered cheerfully. “Are you looking for a place to stay? My husband and I run an inn, just there,” she pointed, “On the corner.”
“Dillon,” he said thoughtfully, tapping a finger on his lips. Not somewhere he had ever been, he was sure. But the name was familiar. But familiar from where? He thanked the woman distractedly and continued down the road.
At the cracking sound he spun around. It couldn’t have been… He walked back to the crowd he had passed a few steps before. A man stood in the center, holding up a green pitcher. “Anyone else?” he said, in a lilting carnival voice.
“Here, fix this shovel, the handle’s broken off!” called a man from the crown. The man in the center took the tool, placed it in the circle at his feet, and crack! came the sound again.
Edward’s jaw dropped. “Alchemy,” he whispered.
“Amazing, isn’t it?” said the woman next to him, nudging him with her elbow.
He spun wildly around, taking in his surroundings. If that was alchemy, then he was… “Home,” he said softly. “I’m home.”
It didn’t take long for him to locate the train station in the small town. “How far am I from Rizembool?” he asked the ticket master.
“I’d say ‘bout half a day by train, sir.,” the man answered pleasantly. “Would you like a round trip?”
Edward shook his head, grinning widely. “No way. One way, no coming back!”
The man nodded, checking the fare book, and told him, “8500 cenz, sir.”
He reached halfway into his pocket before he remembered all his money was in deutschmarks. His face fell for a moment before it brightened again. “I’d like to use my military account.”
“Number?” came the automatic response.
Edward paused, then rattled off a string of numbers from somewhere deep in his memory.
The man frowned. “Haven’t heard one starting in 215 for years now… got your ident card on you? That one’s not gonna be in the book.”
The blond drew his eyebrows down. “Ident card?” he repeated. “Cant say that I do.”
“What’s your name, anyway? You cant use your account unless you have some proof you’re really military,” the man explained, sounding apologetic.
“Major Edward Elric.”
Ed’s jaw dropped a second time when the man threw back his head and laughed. “Good one, kid!” he said through his laughter. “Ya had me goin there!”
“I’m not a kid,” Ed said, suddenly fierce.
“Fullmetal day was last month!” he man said, still shaking with laughter. “You missed it by three weeks. Everyone was callin themselves Edward Elric.”
Ed blinked. Maybe he was dead after all, or transported to yet another alternate reality. However, he had no proof that he was military; his pocket watch had been lost years ago in Central, and the fact remained that he had no cenz with which to buy a ticket. “Which way does the train to Rizembool go, then?” he asked, once the man had stopped laughing.
The ticketmaster pointed down the tracks. “That way, good man.”
Ed thanked him and began walking, ignoring the man’s coming questions.
“Sir, you aren’t going to walk, are you? Sir?”
The man sat in his booth, watching the small figure grow smaller as it followed the tracks in the direction he had pointed. He was limping a little, the man saw, although not badly, and his blond hair swung across his back, side to side with every step. He couldn’t have actually been… could he?
Edward had picked up a sturdy stick from along side the tracks, grasping it firmly in his left hand, using it to support his weight. After the first few miles, the stump of his leg had become increasingly sore. He could see the next town in the distance, and there was still plenty of daylight, but he was going to have to stop there. If he remembered correctly, Rizembool was four towns away along the tracks. He glared down at his feet. With that wooden leg, it would take him days.
He squinted up at the sky. First thing he would do when he got home, after tackling his brother and hugging him like he would never let him go, is get himself some proper automail.
Home. He was tired, exhausted even, but he was going home. He thought it would never be possible, and yet, here he was. Finally on his way home.
He was barely aware of his surroundings as he entered the next town, Altenburg, he thought it was called. He was too busy struggling with himself, memories of his home and loved ones rushing up from where he had pushed them down deep within his mind. He must not allow himself to hope falsely, he thought firmly. There was no proof that his sacrifice had worked. There was no proof that Al was really alive.
Neither of them was paying attention to where they were going, yet both were shocked when they collided, first with each other and then with the ground “I’m so sorry,” said a voice that made his stomach jump. A hand appeared in front of his face, a hand he knew very well, strong, slightly calloused, and smelling of machine oil. “Can I help you up?”
Slowly he raised his eyes to her, pushing himself up from the ground.
He flinched at the piercing sound and stood up slowly on his good leg. “Winry…” he said slowly.
She screamed again, and he grabbed her by the arm. “Shh, don’t scream,” he said, his voice soft and low. “It’s really me.”
Never in all her dreams had she imagined she would run into him here. It was one of the reasons she hadn’t wanted to leave Rizembool in the first place. She threw her arms around him, feeling him stiffen, but he slowly brought his arms to circle her waist, one hand coming up to stroke the back of her head. “Where were you?” she demanded into his neck.
“Far away,” came the vague reply.
She pulled away, studying his face, his eyes, his hair, everything about him. “You grew,” she said before she could stop herself.
Ed smirked. “Yeah. People do, you know,” he said, taking in the sight of her. Home. He was finally home.
She twined her fingers around his, squeezing his hand tightly.
“So you live here now?” he asked after a moment.
Winry nodded. “Al too, when he’s not away-“ She stopped when she saw Ed’s face.
“Al?” he said, his voice catching in his throat.
“Al,” she confirmed.
“Is he… is he-“
She nodded again. “Al is fine. Human. Whole. Ed, not a day goes by that he doesn’t try to find you. He never gave up hope.” She gave his hand a tug. “Come on, lets get out of the street. Aren’t you hungry, Ed? You’re always hungry, I’ll make us some dinner.”
Ed smiled, then pulled her to him hesitantly for a hug. “I’m not dreaming, am I? I’m really here?”
Winry squeezed him tightly, then began to pull him down the sidewalk. Suddenly she stopped. “Ed,” she said, a dangerous glint in her eyes.
She pressed her lips together once, then raged, “You busted up your automail again, didn’t you?”
She stopped when she heard his dry laughter. “Nope,” he said, shaking his head.
She looked at him through narrow eyes. “You’re limping,” she accused. “What’d you do to it? Of course you’ve messed it up.”
But he was shaking his head. He lifted his pant leg to show her his prosthetic that was most certainly not automail. Her eyes swung up to his stiff right arm.
“What happened to the arm and leg I made you?” she demanded, seeming to tower over him although he was now the taller one, and shaking the wrench that had not been in her hand minutes earlier.
Edward rubbed the back of his head, wondering if he could escape the inevitable whack he knew was coming. “Ah, I lost them?”
Finding the Catch: The Meaning of Flowers
“Is there something going on between those two?” One of Hawkeye’s subordinates nudged his companion and nodded towards the blond woman and the dark haired man with the eyepatch. He turned when he heard laughter behind him.
A tall, strongly built man leaned against the wall. “More like was,” the man corrected. “The president must have a damn good reason to stick those two together on this mission. God knows neither of them volunteered for it.”
“She divorced him, didn’t she?”
Havoc nodded. “Couldn’t take his cheating,” he said smugly.
The man who had asked the original question paled. “Who in their right mind would cheat on her?”
“I heard it was over his involvement with one of his subordinates,” said another man in a low, conspiratorial voice.
“But Hawkeye was his subordinate, wasn’t she?”
The man shrugged. “Not her. Someone else. Someone younger.” He grinned wickedly at Havoc. “He’s your commanding officer. Tell me, is it true?”
Havoc shrugged. “You mean Mustang and Fullmetal?” he said, but offered no confirmation one way or the other.
“She couldn’t take his, ah, unnatural distress over his disappearance is what I heard.”
They all heard the click.
Riza Hawkeye stood before them, her eyes blazing. “The next person who utters one word about the General, Fullmetal, or myself that is not related strictly to military business, will be shot before they realize their mistake.” She spun on her heels and exited the room. “And I have excellent hearing,” she added from halfway down the hallway.
When she reached her office she hurriedly shut the door and leaned against it, her chin sinking down to her chest. She could do this. It had been two years since she had even seen Roy. They were both professional adults. Everything was going to be fine.
Her eyes focused on the vase of flowers on her desk. Curious, she reached for the card, and heart clenched when she opened it. It was his writing. Scrawling, a little swirly, girly, she had teased him. She recognized it immediately.
Congratulations on your promotion. I look forward to working with you.
“Yours always,” she muttered darkly, snatching the flowers from the vase and slamming them into the trashcan. “No one could ever claim you, Roy. Not even me.”
Underneath It All
Al only spent maybe a week out of every month in Altenburg, and he heard the whispers. He wondered if Winry heard them too. She must, he realized, although she never said anything to him. She remembered how she had introduced him to her next door neighbor, the first time he visited, when he was twelve and she was eighteen. “This is Alphonse,” she had said, smiling proudly. “He’s like my little brother,” and the woman had smiled and shook his hand. Neither he nor Winry had a home in Rizembool any longer, and she had opened up her automail shop here in Altenburg. So when Al came home from missions, home was where Winry was.
Most of the country knew by now that his brother was gone. Not gone, just missing, he told himself. Now that he was fourteen people had, for the most part, stopped mistaking him for Edward. And the people of this small town had begun to pry into his personal life. “She’s your sister, did you say?” in response to his holding her hand in the marketplace.
“She’s like my sister,” he would correct politely, and they would both smile politely and move on.
“Don’t waste your intentions on Miss Rockbell,” the old women would tell the young men. “Her affections are elsewhere.”
She was the best automail mechanic for miles. People would come from as far away as Dublith for her superior work. Most of them didn’t know, or didn’t care, about her and Alphonse. But every so often, a customer would catch a whisper on the street, and look at her a little differently the next time.
Beneath all the friendliness and caring of the people of Altenburg, there lurked a certain suspiciousness about the newcomers. What kind of healthy, talented, twenty year old woman with a successful business be doing with a fourteen year old kid? Even if the kid was the famous Soul Alchemist. It just didn’t sit right with some.
Jul 14 2005, 10:37 PM
Awsome, It sounded a bit like a few other fics at the very opening of the story. Not that that's a bad thing at all. It just took a little while to be sure I hadn't somewhere already read this one. In any case, I look forward to reading more, This is one I have marked down to return too as often as you update.
~*~Oh hey, I just noticed you joined recently! Welcome to the boards!~*~
*Hands you a Welcome package. containing soda pop, pixie sticks, pocky and FMA plushies*
Jul 15 2005, 10:00 PM
Ooooo a welcome basket? thank you so much! how did you know i ate the last of my pocky for breakfast this morning?
yes, i can see how this story would be similar to a bunch of other ones. Im sure every fan of Edward likes to imagine him coming home to Winry. In fact, in my story-verse, Win and Ed often imagined it themselves.
anyway, the theme of the story is supposed to be about different kinds of love you feel in your lifetime, and how life circumstances can dictate which loves you can act on and which ones you cant.
anyways, thanks for the comment. here's the next part:
The glare of the streetlights on the rain drenched Munich sidewalk seared his brain. He must be drunk after all, he thought.
The man’s jet black eyes burned in his recent memory, the feeling of their bodies pressed together making him shudder. The hungry look on the man’s face was like, and yet so unlike the one time he had seen that look on the Colonel’s. Back then, years ago, he had been too young, too nervous, but here, in this miserable excuse for a world, he knew his nervousness was nothing a glass or two of brandy wouldn’t take care of.
He had committed sins the people of this world couldn’t even conceive of. What difference could this one make, he had argued to himself. But the act had been empty, as empty as he had found everything in this strange world. Now that he would rather return to his imaginings of what things would have been like with the Colonel, his mind was clouded with the memories of this stranger.
Everyone in his own world had a double here, he knew. The man’s name was even Roy, just like Alphonse was called Alphonse. But this Roy was no more his Roy than Al was his Al.
His Roy. Ed stomped a puddle with his good foot, letting the water splash up his pantleg. There had never been a “his Roy.” There had never really even been a Roy and him. It was only Colonel Mustang, his commanding officer in a life long gone.
Ed had tried to ignore the way the man did not notice his reactions, did not seem to care if he was hurting him or if he was comfortable. He tried to ignore the man’s disgust when he pulled off his shirt, revealing his mechanical arm and scarred body. His eyes traced the cracks in the walls, the patterns on the sheets, refusing to settle on the man who was not Roy. He said nothing when the man silently dressed, covering up that lean, pale body and running a hand through his dark hair in the one gesture that did seem to match his counterpart. “So long, kid,” had been his only words out the door.
It would not have been like that with the real Roy. He would not have needed to be drunk to do what he did with the real Roy.
The light was on, he saw, when he opened the door. Alphonse, but not his Alphonse, had been waiting up for him.
Al rose when he heard the door open, and gazed solemnly at his friend. “Ed, were you crying?”
He dragged his hand across his face, flinging raindrops onto the wall next to the door, and shook his head, not yet trusting his voice.
“Are you all right?” came the concerned voice, the same voice as his brother’s, coming from the same face.
Ed nodded. “Fine,” he whispered, dropping onto the couch.
“He didn’t hurt you, did he?” his friend asked, his voice heavy with concern, “That man you’ve been seeing?” here Alphonse blushed and looked away.
He shook his head. “I’m not seeing him any more,” he said quietly.
Al slipped his arm around his friend’s thin body, pulling him in towards his side. When Ed did not pull away he rested his chin on Ed’s shoulder. “I’m glad,” he murmured.
Ed turned slightly to face him, raising his eyebrows at Alphonse.
His friend blushed. “You deserve better,” he said simply. “You deserve someone who appreciates you. Some one who will take care of you.” Alphonse looked away then. He had not meant to say it like that. He hoped Ed had not taken it the wrong way.
“Al, you take care of me,” came his friend’s soft voice.
Edward was very quiet about his personal life. He told Alphonse only the barest details of his past: he did not get along with his father, and he had been separated from his younger brother, who he missed very much. He had spent the two years before they met searching for him, with no results. He was interested in science and gradually became obsessed with sending a rocket into space. That was about all Alphonse knew.
Despite the little that he knew, he found himself falling for his friend. It had happened before. His older brother had once teased him that he loved everything either completely or not at all; as soon as he decided someone was worthy of friendship, he fell in love with them. His brother had been teasing him, but Alphonse often thought he was right. And he had always kept his crushes to himself, fearing it would end his friendships.
“You’re right, Al, he didn’t care about me,” he murmured, flicking lint off the knee of his pants. “It’s not… he wasn’t… it wasn’t what I thought it would be. I’m just so lonely here. I miss… everyone.”
He could feel Al’s heart pounding in his chest. “Ed, don’t be lonely.” He turned to gaze into his friend’s golden eyes. “I’m here.”
Ed sighed. “Not the same,” he muttered, giving Al an apologetic look.
Al drew his knees up on the couch. “Why isn’t it the same?” he asked quietly. “I love you, Ed. I know I’m not handsome and mysterious and charming and dashing and all that stuff you go for, but I love you. Isn’t that enough?”
To his surprise Ed laughed. His flesh hand reached up to lightly trace the line of his cheek. “Who told you you weren’t handsome and charming, Al?”
Alphonse shrugged. “I know what I look like. I’m not your type.”
Ed shook his head. “I don’t know what my type is any more,” he said miserably, pushing his hand through his soaked bangs. His odd colored eyes fixed on his friend once again. “I think you look perfect, Al.”
The younger boy blushed.
Ed winced and rubbed his shoulder. “God, I hate the rain,” he said to the ceiling, changing the subject abruptly. “It makes my arm ache,” and Al silently moved to sit behind him and rub his sore muscles.
Jul 16 2005, 02:57 AM
I'm glad you liked the basket! I did it kinda fast because I already had my reply written to you and then I thought it'd be cute to add a picture of the basket in the post. (Which, I dunno if I will, but I hope that means I wont get in trouble for posting a picture there and not under fanart.. o.o just seemed it would take away from the effect if I merely posted a link. *glances over her shoulder to the mods* ..didn't see anywhere that it was a 'no no' to post a tiny picture.... so maybe my punishment wont be as harsh?..
Anyway, cool about the story point of views your doing. I'm not a fan of male/male or female/female but It doesn't mean I wont read it, Creativeness is creativeness after all. So don't let me being more a edxwin fan influence you. Please have fun and keep writing more
Jul 17 2005, 08:43 PM
here, have some more!
Finding the Catch: Making Real the Unvoiced Desire
“What do you mean there was no such thing as automail?” she demanded. She was sitting across from him at her kitchen table. Ed had insisted that where he had been since his disappearance was too complicated to explain in one night and that he wanted to just enjoy finally being home, but Winry couldn’t help asking questions.
He was staring at her. After so many years of seeing her only in dreams and memories, here she was. Proof that he really was home. In a way, he was glad she was the only one with him on his first night home. Winry didn’t know much about alchemy, so with all her questions she couldn’t really ask exactly what he did to get home.
That was a relief, because every time he tried to think about it, he felt a blinding pain behind his eyes, and it took him several minutes to re-orient himself with the world. He had a suspicion that he hadn’t done anything at all, since alchemy didn’t exist on that side of the gate, and that it had been something Al did. The fact that Al wasn’t home only compounded his concern.
Winry assured him he had only gone away for a few days on military business, and that there was nothing to be concerned about, and that he should be back the next day. Edward wanted to believe her, but he couldn’t shake his doubts. He settled for answering her questions.
“Automail doesn’t exist, and alchemy doesn’t exist. It was as if they had never been discovered,” he told her. “They had other technology, like machines that could fly up above the clouds, and we were even trying to build one that could go up in space, but no automail.”
He watched her eyes light up, and smiled fondly. Never in his travels had he met a girl anything like her, who got so excited about mechanical parts. “Machines that could fly up into space?” she echoed, squeezing her hands together.
He nodded. “I’ll explain how they work, sometime, after Al gets back,” he assured her. She would love that, he knew.
Suddenly her face fell. “So you lived all those years without alchemy? And with wooden limbs? All alone?”
Not exactly alone, he thought to himself, seeing Alphonse Heiderich’s face in his mind’s eye. Was Alphonse looking for him now? He showed her his metal hand, pulling the white glove off. “Not exactly. It’s no where near as good as yours-“ he watched with amusement as Winry turned the barely-functioning hand over in her own. She grabbed his forearm and pushed his sleeve up, and he co-operated. In Germany it had irritated him when people stared at his prosthetic, wanted to know how far up his arm it went and how it worked, called it a “miracle of modern invention” when he knew perfectly well it was sub-standard. Now he was self conscious for a different reason entirely. “I did the best I could with what I had, but-“
She was staring at him, wide eyed. “Ed, you made this?”
“I had some help,” he admitted.
Her face began to show concern. “Is it real automail? Does it connect to your nerves?” she demanded.
He pulled the arm away from her, staring at the metal for a moment before dropping it to his side. “It does, but-“
“Ed, you don’t know anything about automail! You mean you let someone who had no idea what they were doing mess with your nervous system?” she raged.
“What else was I supposed to do?” he protested.
She pressed her lips together. “Take your shirt off,” she demanded.
He stared at her. “Huh?” was all he could manage.
She dragged him to his feet. “I mean it. Take your shirt off, I need to see exactly what you did!”
He jerked away from her. “Not now, Winry! I just got back, cant you let me relax?” he whined.
She glared at him. “Automail,” she said dangerously, “is made and installed by professionals, Ed, and there’s a reason for that. It’s dangerous! I need to make sure you’re okay!”
“It’s fine, Winry,” he said, irritated, eyes flashing. “I mean, it’s not fine, it’s a piece of crap, but I’ve had it for years, and it’s not hurting me!” This wasn’t exactly true. The arm almost always hurt him, but he had gotten used to it, deciding the pain was worth having two arms to work with rather than one. He spun around, pacing the short length of the kitchen, suddenly self conscious of his limp as well. His leg wasn’t even the primitive form of automail his arm was; it was simply a well made wooden leg. “What did you want me to do, Winry? Go around with just one arm? I’m sorry it isn’t perfect, but I didn’t have you around to put me back together so I had to do it myself!”
When she didn’t respond, he turned around again, and saw that she was sitting down with her head in her arms, shaking.
“Winry?” he queried, coming over to her. “you’re not crying, are you?”
She lifted her head slowly, her blue eyes rimmed with red. “We thought you were dead. We thought we would never see you again,” she whispered.
He wrapped his left arm around her awkwardly, pulling her close to him. “But I’m here now. Everything is okay,” he said, breathing in the scent of her shampoo mixed with machine oil.
“I’m sorry, Ed. I was just worried,” she said into his chest.
“It’s okay,” he repeated. “You don’t have to be worried. Everything is fine now. Look,” he directed, sitting down on the edge of the table and beginning to unbutton his shirt one handed. “You can look at it if you want. I just don’t want you to cry.”
She slid the shirt off his shoulder, examining the part with a mechanic’s eye. She began to press her strong fingers into the flesh right where it joined the metal, and saw him flinch but said nothing. “Lift your arm,” she commanded, and he did. “Higher,” she added, but he shook his head and shrugged. “Bend your elbow,” she said next, and obediently he bent it. She took the metal hand in hers, wishing suddenly that it was the one she had made him, so that he could squeeze back with five perfect fingers. “Your hand doesn’t work, does it,” she asked, not really a question but he shook his head anyway. “This is like what they used a hundred years ago,” she said finally. “The kind you see in textbooks. Not even half as advanced as what you had before.”
Ed slid down from the table, picking up his shirt. “See?” he said to her. “Everything is okay, Win.” He watched her eyes travel over the scars around his shoulder and across his chest. “You’re staring,” he said gently, after a moment.
“You’re beautiful,” she responded.
It was not what he expected her to say. He meant to reply no I’m not, but he found himself saying “so are you.”
Her large blue eyes began to fill with tears again, and, worried, Ed wrapped his arms around her and rubbed her back. “Hey,” he said softly. “Don’t cry.”
Her voice shook when she spoke. “I’ve dreamed about you coming back for so long. I cant believe you’re really here.”
Impulsively, he kissed the top of her head, letting the soft strands of her hair tickle his lips.
Winry raised her eyes to him, their blue seeming even brighter when magnified by her tears. Slowly she leaned up and pressed her soft lips into his, feeling him trying to back up and clasping her arms firmly around him so he could not pull away. Finally, tentatively, he began to kiss back, remembering to close his eyes. Home. He was home.
He was in a town he had never been to before, but it was his own world. He was in a house he had never seen before, but the woman he held smelled like home. She was twisting her fingers around his, pulling at him gently. “Ed,” she whispered. “Lets go upstairs.”
They were awkward together, crawling onto the middle of her bed, holding each other tight, Winry letting her hands run up and down over his body and feeling him shiver at her touch. They had both imagined this moment countless times, but that was years ago, and in their imaginations they never aged.
Edward must be twenty two now, she realized, but as she gazed at him, taking in every detail, she thought he looked older. It wasn’t that his clothes were different, or that he was taller, or that his hair had grown, it was the look in his eyes, as if he had seen more years than she had.
They had each imagined they would be each other’s firsts, but time had passed, and things had changed. Winry had removed his shirt again, and was beginning to undo his pants as well, but she herself was fully clothed. Hesitantly, Ed slid his left hand under her shirt and over her stomach, slowly inching upwards. “Is this okay?” he whispered.
“Of course,” she assured him. “Of course it’s okay.”
Edward had worried over how to tell her he wasn’t sure what he was doing, but Winry seemed perfectly content to take charge, and he let her, basking in the familiarity of his childhood friend. All his self consciousness vanished as she explored his body with her strong hands, soft lips, and worshipful eyes. Suddenly she became everything to him, the only thing he saw, the only thought in his mind, and he pulled her closer, wanting, all at once, what they had both dreamed of long ago.
She’s not a virgin, he realized, but that thought, and all others, faded quickly. They did not take notice of the late afternoon sun slanting through the bedroom, tingeing the walls with orange and gold. They did not notice their own voices as they cried out together, the sounds drifting through the otherwise empty house.
She lay across his chest, sheets twined around their bodies, listening to his heavy breathing, dragging a finger down his stomach through the thin film of sweat that covered them. “Love you,” she murmured, her eyelids heavy with sleep.
She felt his clumsy metal hand rest lightly on her back; she was laying on the flesh one, she realized. “Mmm,” was his tired response.
When Edward woke the room had the blue glow of twilight. His head was throbbing, and he had been dreaming, he first thought, but about what? Winry still lay on top of him, and when the realization hit him he pried himself out from under her, careful not let her wake, and began to pull his clothes out from the tangle of sheets. He hadn’t fallen asleep with his prosthetic leg still on in ages, and now it ached where the straps had been cutting into his skin. He stood up unsteadily, taking a few moments to catch his balance and push back the pain in his head. Maybe Winry had some painkillers in the house.
He found the bottle easily enough in the bathroom cabinet, and took two, leaning his head against the cool glass of the mirror. Just how had he gotten home? His brain, beginning to wake up, was struggling for answers.
What had he done? Scenes from before flashed though his mind, and he squeezed his eyes shut. He had slept with his best friend. How could he? They were both emotional at being reunited. Yes, they loved each other, but it was like love between siblings. God, had he used that argument before! He felt disgusted with himself, like he had used her in some way, used her to prove that yes, he really was in his own world, mind, soul, and yes, body. She said she had dreamed of his coming home. Was he preying on her dreams then? But, he forced himself to remember, they were his dreams too.
His dreams, he told himself, meant nothing. The guilt pressed down on him, weighting down his already weighted soul. Slowly making his way downstairs, he found a blanket in her hall cabinet and sat down on her couch. He carefully unbuckled the straps that held his leg in place, setting it on the floor and rubbing the sore places on his thigh were it had been digging into the skin. Then he laid back, jamming a cushion over his head in an attempt to stop the pounding, and fell asleep.
chibi eds chibi lover
Aug 8 2005, 03:51 AM
[COLOR=purple][SIZE=7][FONT=Optima][U][I][B]WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO POST AGAIN?!?!?!?!?!? I AM GOING IMSANE! i HAVE BEEN CHECKING IN EVERY 9 HOURS LIKE A GOOD LITTLE FMA JUNKIE WHO HAS EVERY DVD MANGA RELEASED IN THE U.S. MEMORISED SO SHE HAS TO READ FANFICTION UNTIL THE COFEE DOSENT WORK ANYMORE AND SHE PASSES OUT ON THE KEYBOARD 14 YEAR OLD FREAK AND YOU HAVENT UPDATED!! ONE WORD wtf?!?!? DID U RUN AWAY OR SOMETHING/ DIE IN A FIRERY CAR CRASH? WELL IN YOU DID YOU BETTER GET ED TO CALL YOU SOUL BACK LIKE HE DID ALPHONSE'S AND ATTACHIT TO A DAHM KEYBOARD!!!! I WILL HUNT YOU DOWN IF YOU DO NOT FINISH THIS!! i SWEAR ON EDWARD ELRIC(THAT SEXY BASTERD0 HIMSELF! DO NOT MESS WITH MY HEAD!!!!
PS I am a regestered user but this bastarrd of a laptop wont let me sighn on
Aug 12 2005, 10:41 PM
Umm, pretty long fic wouldnt you say.
Aug 15 2005, 03:34 PM
ok then two more parts, dedicated to the annonymous user who's laptop will not let them sign on, lol. settle down dear. glad you like it
The Simplicity of Simple Things
Riza hummed lightly to herself as she set about preparing the meal. She pulled the large cooking pot down from the top shelf of the kitchen cabinet, the only one he had, it seemed. Checking inside, she rolled her eyes. This wasn’t the dust that had gathered in the months Roy had spent recovering. This had taken years to accumulate. Of course the man did not cook. He probably ate out every night, or ordered in. Hell, he probably wined and dined a different woman every night.
She sighed as she turned on the faucet and began to scrub out the pot. After making sure it was sufficiently dust-free she filled it with cold water and set it on the stove. She began to set out the vegetables she had bought at the market: carrot, potato, celery, onion, pulling them from the bag one by one.
“Riza darling, step away from the stove.”
Startled, she jumped back, colliding backwards with the man she hadn’t realized was standing behind her. He wrapped one arm around her waist, and she tilted her head back, smiling up at him. “Are you offering to cook dinner?” she teased, her brown eyes warm and dancing.
Roy smirked and shook his head, pulling his gloves on. There was a snap! and the burners ignited, flaring up, almost too high, and the room filled with smoke. One by one, each went out until only the one under the pot was left burning, and at a reasonable level. “I didn’t want to singe your pretty eyebrows,” he told her, but she was laughing and waving at the smoke in the air.
He made his way slowly around the kitchen, leaning heavily on the cane, and dropped gratefully into one of the chairs.
“Sir,” she said with mock seriousness. “I think you need to work on your aim.” She raised her eyebrows pointedly at the scorch marks on the wall behind the stove.
He leaned back. “Eh, I’ll get used to it,” he said lightly, catching her around the waist and pulling her in for a quick kiss.
Finding the Catch: Alchemical Equation
Ed was already awake, sitting at her kitchen table sipping a fresh mug of coffee when she came downstairs the next morning. He looked away when he saw her in the doorway. “I made enough coffee for you, too,” he said to the wall.
She jerked the cabinet door open and grabbed the blue mug down from the shelf. Edward had already claimed the red one; the one Al always used when he was home. “I’m surprised you’re still here,” she said bitterly, facing the window above the sink, not looking at him. “When I woke up I thought you were gone again.”
He shook his head, although he knew she wasn’t watching him. “I’m sorry,” he said under his breath. “We shouldn’t have- I shouldn’t have-“
She spun around, fixing her narrow blue eyes on him. “What do you mean you shouldn’t have?” she demanded.
He dropped his forehead down on his hand. “I’m sorry, Winry,” he said again, but her expression nearly stopped him from continuing. “I didn’t mean to make you angry with me,” he mumbled. “I didn’t mean for any of that to happen.”
She slammed the mug down on the counter and stormed out of the room without a reply. For a moment Ed sat in shock, but quickly stood up to follow her. “I’m sorry,” he called.
She was standing in the middle of the next room and turned again to face him. “You’re sorry?” she repeated. He wasn’t sorry for leaving her bedroom, she realized. He was sorry for the whole thing. “Bastard,” she muttered.
He spread his hands in a gesture completely unlike the explosion she was expecting. “Look,” he began, “can’t we-“
“Don’t talk to me, you jerk,” she snapped, pushing past him and giving him a shove to the middle of the chest as she flew by, knocking him off balance. “I have work to do,” she said on her way out the door.
“Hey,” he protested, but she had already slammed the door. Edward slumped down on the couch. He had been home for less than a day, and his homecoming was not going the way he had imagined it so many times. Looking around Winry’s house, he saw a few familiar things here and there, but it wasn’t the same as the Rockbell home in Rizembool. He supposed he pictured everyone he cared about gathered in one place to greet him: Auntie Pinako, Izumi-sensei, Colonel Mustang, Alphonse…
He began to straighten up in the kitchen; the last thing he needed was Winry coming out of her workshop to yell at him for leaving her place a mess. Rinsing out the coffee pot, he realized he wasn’t surprised that Al was with the military now. He had guessed that if he was truly restored, he might have decided to take the State Alchemist exam again. It was perfectly normal, then, if he worked for the military, for Alphonse to be away.
Perfectly normal. There was no reason to be concerned.
Visions of the night before kept flashing behind his eyes; his body remembered the feeling of her, the smoothness of her skin, the scent of her hair, the feel of her hands traveling over him and her large, luminous blue eyes staring into his. Was it possible that Winry was angry with him because she didn’t regret what they shared the way he did?
He stared out the window. He had already made a mess of things.
There was a knock at the door, and Ed waited for Winry to come out of her workroom to answer, but when she didn’t he guessed she didn’t hear. At the second knocking, Ed gave in and opened the door himself.
He stood facing two familiar faces in two familiar uniforms. Trying to place their names, he simply stared, while the man said, “Sorry, is Miss Rockbell at home?”
‘She’s working,” Ed said slowly. They didn’t recognize him? He sighed. That was natural, he supposed. After all, he didn’t look much like his sixteen year old self anymore. Ross. Maria Ross, was the blue eyed woman’s name, he recalled. The man was Denny something.
“I have an important message for her,” said the woman.
“Is it about Alphonse?” he demanded abruptly, his heart suddenly pounding.
She eyed him closely. He watched her eyes widen in shock, and she whispered, “It cant be… Edward?”
He grinned at being recognized, although worry was beginning to press in on him. “Hello, ah, Miss Ross,” he said, not knowing what her rank might be after so much time.
She grabbed him in a hug. “Where have you been? Everyone said you were dead!” she cried. She let him go, eyeing him once more. “You certainly grew,” she added, and he frowned.
“Of course I grew,” he said sharply. “No adult is less than five feet tall.”
Her blue eyes danced as she exchanged glances with the man beside her. “How long have you been back?” she asked next.
“Since yesterday,” he said, still leaning in the doorway. His face became serious again. “You are here about Alphonse, aren’t you?”
Her expression matched his. “Edward, perhaps you should get Miss Rockbell.”
Aug 19 2005, 09:37 PM
yay ohh, me love! What happened to my baby Alphonse?!? oh he so sexy... not as sexy as older brother though winrey is a bitch, she must be mad because he wasnt good or something, I'll take him, of btw its me the estadic 14 year old, well my bday was last week so now I'm a 15 yr old girl who takes this fic as the equivilent of crack, peaces!
Oct 1 2005, 10:53 PM
dammit its been months post! too lazy to sighn in its me again!
Oct 2 2005, 10:23 PM
Finding the Catch: Distribution of Mistakes
“Is he really here?” came a familiar voice from the doorway. Ed stopped his pacing of Winry’s living room and turned to face the yet to be visible voice.
“I don’t think he really knows how he got here,” Winry’s voice said quietly. “But I told him Alphonse was just on some military business a few towns away. You don’t think he-“
“Alphonse never arrived there. His body was found in Ishbal by some government relief workers.”
He heard Winry’s muffled cry through the walls.
“His body?” Edward called out, alarmed, rushing into the kitchen, coming face to face with Riza Hawkeye. “What do you mean? Is Al okay?”
Riza brushed a stray lock of hair out of her face, her eyes quickly taking in the sight of the boy she had not seen in six years. Before she could ask any questions, she had to settle his fears. “Al is being taken to a hospital in East City,” she said swiftly. “I just spoke to our contacts in Ishbal. General Mustang has already ordered an investigation.” She gazed at him, taking in his unusual clothes and his familiar gold hair and eyes. “Welcome home, Edward,” she said then.
He nodded. “Hello, Lieutenant,” he responded.
“It’s General now, but you can call me Riza, you know,” she said gently. “We’re both adults.”
“What’s wrong with Al?” he demanded. “What was my brother doing in Ishbal?”
Riza put her hand to her forehead and sighed. “I don’t know any more than what I just told you,” she said, resignedly. “As soon as any information comes in, I’ll tell you.”
“I’ll make us some tea,” Winry offered hollowly, silently putting the kettle on the stove.
Ed saw the worry etched clearly in her face. “You can sit down, Winry, I’ll do it,” he offered, and watched her sit gratefully down in one of the chairs.
Thank God Alphonse hadn’t disappeared, was the thought echoing through everyone’s mind.
There was another knock on the door, and Edward set the lid on the kettle and pushed aside Winry’s yellow curtains to look out the window. His heart skipped a beat. “It’s Roy,” he said, surprised. He didn’t turn around to see Riza flinch, wasting no time in opening the door for him.
A large black patch covered Roy’s eye and the upper side of his face, but with that exception and a bit more decoration on his uniform, he looked much the same as Ed remembered.
“Fullmetal,” he said, his remaining eye gleaming sharply.
“Did you hear anything about Alphonse?” Ed demanded, trying to head off any sarcastic comments that might have been forthcoming. He moved aside, motioning for Roy to come in.
He shook his head grimly. “He’s being transported to a hospital in East City. He’s in a coma. That’s all.” He nodded distractedly towards Winry and Riza. “Ladies, hello.”
“Hello, sir,” Riza said tightly, looking pointedly away.
Winry glanced at her sympathetically.
Both Hawkeye and Mustang were Generals now? But that meant that she wasn’t working under him any more. If they were both Generals, they probably weren’t even working together any more. Edward was acutely aware of the tensions between the two, and wondered if Roy could tell that something was wrong between himself and Winry.
“Miss Rockbell,” Roy began, his tone professional, “If Alphonse said anything at all to you that might-“
But Winry was shaking her head miserably. “He told me he was on a routine investigation and would be back in a few days. I had no reason not to believe him,” she said sadly.
“Was there anything in his behavior before he left that might have indicated-“
“No, there was nothing, sir,” Winry assured him.
The General turned his piercing, one eyed gaze on Edward at last, and said, “Then the answer, I believe, lies with you, Fullmetal.”
“I want to go to East City,” Ed said intensely, his eyes bright. “I want to see my brother.”
“That is not an answer.”
“Of course you can.”
Mustang and Hawkeye both responded at the same time, then turned and glared at eachother. Edward turned to face Hawkeye. “What time does the next train leave?” he demanded.
“In four hours. I’ve already arranged everything; a car is coming to take us to the station,” she assured him, her voice strong and authoritative, not really matching the pained expression behind her eyes. She twisted the teacup around in her hands.
“If you go to East City, Fullmetal,” Roy warned, “The military will be waiting for you.”
Riza banged her cup down on the table harder than she meant to and shot a dangerous look in his direction. “What have you done?” she demanded, accusations thick in her voice.
Roy threw up his hands, exasperated. “Nothing,” he said haughtily. “The rumors of his return spread fast, and the President ordered an investigation.” He turned to Ed. “If you’re not dead, Fullmetal, which I can see that you’re not, the military considers you a deserter.”
“I don’t care,” Ed said darkly. “I want to see my brother.”
The man lowered his voice. “I know you do,” he said quietly. “But what it is the two of you did to see each other again? You were gone,” Roy said firmly. “We left no stone unturned. You were dead, there was no other way Alphonse could have been restored. You can tell me what happened. I’ll keep your secret, like I always have.”
Ed clutched his head, struck by the blinding pain that seized his brain and began pressing in like a vice.
She had stopped being startled every time she saw Al. She was growing used to the way he resembled Ed. After all, they were brothers. Even if they didn’t look much alike when they were kids, it made sense that they would look more alike as they grew older. Or, at least, as Al grew older.
He was sitting, cross-legged, on her couch, nose buried in an alchemy book, when she came pounding down the stairs. When he heard her heavy footsteps he looked up, grey eyes serious, and smiled serenely at her. She gave his bronze ponytail a gentle tug as she passed and continued into the workshop.
Ed was not someone they talked about. Ed was not someone Alphonse spoke about to anyone. At first, he had been all questions and eager ears, but one day, suddenly, he had refused to hear any more. He couldn’t remember, he said, and that was that. It was time to move forward. And move forward he did, becoming a State Alchemist, like Ed had. Growing his hair out, like Ed had. He had even taken to wearing Ed’s old red coat with the flamel on the back of it.
There had been a period of time when the people of Amestris mistook him for Ed. There had been rumors that he and Ed were really the same person, and that the suit of armor that followed Ed around and claimed to be Alphonse was just an elaborate ruse. That was the closest any rumors got to the truth: that the armor had been empty all those years.
But Winry knew he was not Ed. She knew, every time she touched him, that he was not Ed. When she held his two flesh hands in hers, when she looked into his wide grey eyes, she knew he was not Ed. She did not hold him close in the evenings to try to fend off his nightmares because she thought he was Ed, or because she wished he was Ed.
Their relationship, which progressed hesitantly and innocently past friendship, past sibling-like love, was not built on her feelings for the brother who was years since gone.
The cocktail napkin filled her with a sick kind of dread. It had happened at last.
She crumbled the thin tissue in her fist and gave the dresser drawer a shove closed. She didn’t know what was worse: the fact that Roy was hiding things from her or the fact that she was acting like a jealous housewife.
She felt like she was watching someone else, a jealous woman with blonde hair and brown eyes (someone else because she wasn’t a jealous woman. If she was jealous, she couldn’t have tolerated Roy’s flirting with everything that breathed all those years that she worked with him) storm into the den and shove the crumpled napkin under her lover’s nose, demanding, “Who’s Luisa?”
Roy showed no surprise, his single eye did not widen, his pale cheeks did not blush, he simply folded the paper he was reading and looked up at her. “She’s a waitress at the pub around the corner,” he said calmly.
“What’s her number doing in your underwear drawer?” she asked hotly, hands on her hips.
Roy simply smirked. “And what were you doing in my underwear drawer?”
Riza felt her face redden, with frustration, not embarrassment. “I was putting away your wash,” she said tightly.
Her lover shrugged, re-opening his paper and going back to reading. “Its not like I called her, Riza, what’s the big deal?”
She stood there, fuming. “You shouldn’t have taken it in the first place,” she replied. “You should have given it back to her and told her you were not available.”
Roy looked up again. “What, and ruin my reputation?” he asked, his tone still playful.
“Your reputation,” she began, the darkness in her voice building with every word, “should be one of a married man, who is utterly devoted to his wife, not because he fears her impeccable skill with a pistol but because she is the love of his life,” she said angrily, spinning on her heals and storming out of the room.
“Riza,” came his concerned voice. She heard him put his paper down and follow her. “You aren’t really angry, are you?”
She was standing at the hall window, looking out over the streets of Central. “You used to tell me stories about the silly women who still chased after you, even though they knew you were married, and how you turned them all down,” she said quietly. “Those stories stopped ages ago. Now I find phone numbers in your underwear drawer and your shirts smell like perfume.”
He slipped an arm around her waist and rested his chin on her shoulder, letting his warm breath tickle the side of her neck. “But you’re the only one I love,” he murmured.
She twisted around, staring into the face of her husband. “Then you shouldn’t still be chasing after every attractive young thing that crosses your path,” she said coldly.
Roy sighed. “I’m not, Riza, believe me, I’m not,” he assured her. “Most of it was only ever an act, anyway. An act or a game.”
She shook her head. “Love isn’t a game, Roy.”
He was silent, tightening his grip around her, as if he suddenly realized how bothered she was and how possible it was that she could walk out of his life and never return.
“Every day I have to deal with the rumors,” she said after several minutes passed. “Some well-meaning co worker always tries to fill me in on your latest escapades, you were seen with so and so at the wherever, as if I don’t already know.”
“People talk,” he said, his voice urgent. “That doesn’t mean there’s any truth to it. I see a lot of people every day, I interact with all kinds of people, it’s my job. Sometimes they are attractive young women. Don’t believe what spiteful people tell you. There have always been rumors about me, don’t start believing them now,” he pleaded.
Her eyes narrowed. “What about the rumors about you and Edward?”
She watched the color drain from his face. She felt a cold surge of triumph that bothered her. This is what finally got to him?
“There was never anything between myself and Fullmetal,” he said shortly. “He was my subordinate, that’s all.”
“Funny, that’s what you told people about me too,” she snapped, taking in the shocked look on his face. “Oh come on, Roy, I saw the two of you at that party. I saw the same thing everyone saw, and drew the same conclusions. How can you deny it?”
“I- nothing happened!” he stammered. “He was a child! I would never-“ He drew himself up and took a deep breath. “What does it matter anyway?” he demanded. “That was years ago, years before we were married, years before we were even together. Why bring that up now?”
She was looking at him levelly, her rich brown eyes boring holes through his heart. “I need to be alone right now,” she said firmly, opening the closet and taking out her coat. “Don’t wait up for me.”
After she left he collapsed back in his chair in the den, swatting the paper he had been reading to the floor. If he wanted to go after her, he knew, he could. She went to the shooting range at the military headquarters, that’s where she always went when they fought. He used to go after her, and they would make up right there, giving a bit of a show to anyone else who happened to be using the facility, before someone inevitably shouted “Get a room!” and they would blush together and return home to finish what they started.
Roy stood up, and walked purposefully into the bedroom and jerked open the drawer that had caused so much trouble. In the back, behind the socks, he found his little black book. Regarding it for a few moments, he tossed it on the dresser. That book was legendary. He picked up the gloves that were folded neatly next to it, and drew them over his slender hands. With a snap! the pages were nothing but thin sheets of crumbling ash, and there would always be a faint scorch mark in the wood of the dresser.
Finding the Catch: Balancing Act
Ed was not prepared for the shock he received upon seeing his brother for the first time in… fifteen years, was it? He hadn’t realized it, but he had been picturing Alphonse Heiderich when he thought of his brother lying in the hospital.
Roy had declared Edward’s arrival at the hospital in East City to be a top secret military event, hoping to delay any rumors that might get back to the president. By Roy’s orders, Alphonse was already being cared for in an empty wing of the hospital, so thus far, Ed’s presence had gone undetected.
Edward demanded to be the first to see his brother, and insisted that he go in alone, and without further discussion he pushed past the other three, pulling the door closed behind him. Roy paced the long hallway restlessly, uncomfortable with sitting outside the room with Winry and Riza, and troubled greatly by the revelation that Edward did not know how he had been restored to his own world. The two blonde women were having an intense conversation, and he did not wish to intrude.
Riza and Winry had quickly progressed passed stiff pleasantries. It had been several years since they had seen each other; in fact, it was since Riza had requested to be transferred out of Central. She now operated out of East City, and clearly resented Roy’s commandeering of the situation that was unfolding on territory that was obviously part of her jurisdiction. Winry was sympathetic to the tensions between the two of them, and tactfully did not ask any questions, although she knew no more than that they were divorced, and that the rumors stated she divorced him because he was cheating on her.
Winry was staring at the closed door to Al’s room. “I just want to see him,” she said again. “If I can just see him, have some proof that he’s alive-“
“He’s alive, Winry,” Riza interrupted. “The doctors said his body is fine, and that the may wake up any day. Perhaps he just needs to hear his brother’s voice,” she said soothingly.
“It can’t be a coincidence that Ed’s back and Al’s hurt,” she protested. “Al did something, I know he did.” She shook her head. “He’s probably been planning it for a while, and never said anything because he didn’t want anyone to try to stop him.” Tears began to squeeze from the corners of her eyes, and she made no effort to brush them away. She glanced at the door once more. “I just want to see him.”
Edward leaned back against the door, feeling its solid presence in what was quickly seeming more and more unreal. His brother, not his brother’s double, but his brother lay, as if asleep, hooked up to several machines beside his bed. Carefully, hesitantly, he sat down beside the bed, studying every detail of his brother’s face, unconsciously comparing it to Alphonse Heiderich’s.
His brother was smaller, younger looking than the Alphonse in Germany. His skin was more tanned, like he remembered his mother’s looking long ago. Perhaps that was the key difference, he mused. There was a cast to his brother’s features that reminded him of his mother in a way that Alphonse Heiderich’s never had. He traced a careful finger over his brother’s smooth cheek and brushed it through his bronze colored bangs. He had never imagined Alphonse would grow his hair out, but as he moved it absently across the pillow, he decided it suited him. “Al,” he whispered. “Wake up. It’s me. I’m home.”
His heart thundered in his chest, but there was no change in his brother’s heavy breathing.
“Oh Al, please, please be all right,” he begged. “Please don’t have done anything stupid. Your life’s more important than mine, what were you thinking?” He shook his brother’s shoulder a little roughly, and bronze eyelashes fluttered, revealing dusky grey eyes.
Edward stared. “Al?” he queried, his breaths coming in ragged gasps, but the eyes never focused. “Al!” he said forcefully, waving a hand desperately before his brother’s face, but he did not so much as blink. “Oh no,” he breathed softly. “Oh no, Al, no,” he protested, feeling his stomach clench in a cold knot of dread. Alphonse was fine, he was right there in front of him. He had waited for this moment for over half of his lifetime. He could wait a little longer for Al to wake up. He was going to wake up.
He hadn’t realized he had crawled onto the bed with his brother, wrapped his arms around him, buried his face in his brother’s soft hair. He didn’t even realize he was crying until he saw the wetness spread over his brother’s hospital gown.
Nearly an hour later, Winry jumped at the sound of the door opening. She stood up urgently, her eyes questioning her best friend without speaking.
“He opened his eyes,” Edward told her, his tone flat.
She clasped her hands together. “That’s wonderful,” she exclaimed. “I knew he would be all right! I’ll never forgive him for scaring us all like that, though!” She felt a hand on her shoulder, stopping her in the doorway.
She turned to stare into Ed’s red rimmed eyes. “He’s not there, Win,” he said, his voice low, his expression unreadable. “His eyes are open. But he isn’t there.”