Title Setting Fires
Fandom Full Metal Alchemist
Characters Edward Elric. Some Alphonse Elric.
Summary I never thought setting fires could make a person understand what was truly important.
Submitted for The Ultimate Fanfiction Contest (One Shots) November 20th 2009.
I never thought Mom would no longer be there.
I think it's something that everyone believes when they have a parent that as always been there for them: that their mother or father would always be waiting at home no matter what. It is hard to wrap the mind around the concept of their absence when their presence had become so customary. For many, they don't want to think about that, so they don't. I know I didn't, back then. The thought of Mom leaving never even crossed my foolish, childish mind. I was too concerned with those warm summer days with sunshine against wooden fences and dirt roads that would all lead back to the white house upon the hill where she would always-always be standing there smiling beneath blue skies before white hanging sheets on the line, smelling like lavender and fresh apple pies warm from the oven and life from that point in time was the happiest I could ever remember. I never thought there would be anything different. I never believed that when it became dark outside, I would look up at the second floor window and not see that flickering light to call us home.
I never thought the light would no longer be there.
Once again, those childish thoughts of mine blinded me to the truths of the world. I truly believed that she was content because she was always smiling. But I should have realized that she was trying to smile, forcing her lips to make the motion when she was so sad and lonely on the inside. I should have known by looking at her that our faces filled her with such bittersweet feelings. How would it feel to look at your children and see the man you longed for with all your heart? I don't know, because she was always smiling despite the pain I could never understand.
I never thought Mom's smile would disappear.
When she died, it was the middle of summer. It shouldn't have been cold, but it was, at least to me. I never thought that when her eyes closed, they would never open again. I never thought that her strong hand could turn cold, fall so loosely in ours that clenched so tightly onto hers, begging her not to go. I never thought she would leave us behind. Really, I never thought I would have to see her name on a grave the letters deep and hard in the stone, cast in sunken shadows at twilight as my knees ached in tall, fresh grass as Al a tall silhouette against marble said softly Brother we should go home now while I was thinking such forbidden thoughts tasting like ashes upon my tongue.
I never thought we would have to go home alone.
"Brother," I said, that night in the dark. Al was still crying; I could hear him in the bed below mine in soft, quiet melancholy. We had nothing left in the empty house without Mom. There were just the ghosts that her presence left behind: the cheerful curtains, the pressed tablecloth, the faint smell that was distinctly hers. And then there was the light in the second floor window she would use to call us home, never to be used again.
I never thought despair could push us to such extremes.
It was hard not to feel that push, that nagging presence in the back of my mind, because everything felt empty afterwards. The smiles and gifts from neighbors were hollow, meaningless without her warmth. But what could we do besides accept them and pretend-like Mom-to smile? We were merely two children without parents, forced to walk cold hallways alone at night with only indigo light in dark spaces smelling like books and papers and her scent that grew fainter and fainter by the days and long evenings that seemed without end in solitary silence. Aunt Pinako was kind to us, as she always had been, and even made dinner every night. It was good, but it didn't taste the same as Mom's: harder to chew, it seemed, especially when my eyes could only fall downwards as taboo imaginings played themselves out in my mind. Aunt Pinako and Winry were there, always there when we needed, but Al and I still had to walk home alone to stay in the dark house.
I never thought the day would come when we would...
"Brother," I said, on a night it wouldn't stop raining. The lists were on the floor of the study, washed out and gray. Lightning flashed and highlighted the words upon the pages, the charts, graphs, circles upon circles with cramped handwriting in the margins of all...
Thirty-five liters water, twenty kilograms carbon, four liters ammonia...
He looked at me and I knew then that he knew.
...one-and-a-half kilograms lime, eight hundred grams phosphorus, two-hundred-fifty grams salt...
My fingers clenched in the scattered papers on the floor, crinkling the writing I knew now by heart. Even if it was going against the cycle of the world and disrupting the flow of time, I-we-had to. Teacher would be upset if she knew we had gone into everything knowing what we wanted to accomplish in the end with that knowledge. All for one and one for all and yet...
one-hundred grams nitrate, eighty grams sulphur, seven-and-a-half-grams fluorine...
"We can't," he said, "because it's forbidden."
...five grams iron, three grams silicon, and fifteen other trace elements...
"We can," I said, "because we have to."
I never thought we could be so wrong.
"Give me back my brother!" I could only scream fighting against the hands pulling me back, ripping, tearing at the flesh until it gave way to muscle and blood, raw, pulsing pain as knowledge rushed through my head, streaming into my brain like the crimson, crimson life flowing out of me and as the thousands of eyes stared at me, staring, staring beyond the Gate, inside the Gate, laughing, laughing at me when all I could scream was give me back Alphonse because if I couldn't reach him, dying might be...
I never thought I could make such a mistake.
"Brother," Al said, bringing me back to consciousness the morning after that night, when I was lying in bed with two missing limbs and nothing but ghost pain in my still-active nerves. It was Al's voice, but not as I remembered it. He was not as I had seen him before: my short, clumsy brother with the constant smile. When I saw what I had made him, my heart felt as heavy as the armor his soul was forced to wear. Although I was glad I had been successful in retrieving Al's life, I felt guilty for losing him in the first place. And what had our sacrifice been for? I could only look at my body, at his, and wonder: what had we accomplished? We had created that thing and Al's corporeal form had been lost beyond the Gate. As for myself, though I was still mostly in one piece, perhaps I was lost too.
I never thought I would question the principle of Equivalent Exchange.
That night, I had almost lost Al to my selfish desires. I had almost lost the last remaining part of my family to the most taboo art in our world. I had almost, but I hadn't, and I was never more humbled by the knowledge that alchemy did not make me a God. I could not bend things to my will, no matter how much I wanted them. I had to accept that there were things in the world that I could not change-could not bring back to life-but there were things that I could do to atone for my sins. These conclusions came together slowly, but surely. As I attempted to move with my new body of metal parts, I came to realize a lot of things: how one for all and one for all truly made sense. Mom was beyond our reach in the past. We could never reach her there in our present time and we never could go back to those days we longed for so much but we did have precious things: the memories of her that would never fade and...I had Al. Those things were enough for me in the present time, where now I could look forward to the inevitable future. It was time to move forward in the never ending cycle of life.
I never thought it would be such a struggle to stand on my own two feet again.
"Brother," Al said, on that fall evening that smelled like gasoline. There was nothing left except the shell of our former life. There were the old ghosts and memories, dusty hallways and empty drawers; a hallway scattered with ripped pages and meaningless books that promoted only tragedy. To me-to us-it was just a house. And we couldn't stay in the house with all of her things that still remained. We couldn't live in the place where she used to smile and laugh when she was alive. We couldn't walk by her door every single night: the door that led into the room where she died. And we couldn't hold our heads up in any form of self respect while dwelling in the same house where we brought her back.
I never thought, I never thought...
We had missed the point of everything: why a human transmutation had never been successful. The only logical conclusion I could come up with was that because, despite the ingredients to make up the average human body, there was something missing. The volition was gone, the warmth, the spirit. The missing element was something that could not be bought in any store or cultivated in any part of the world by human hands. Nothing could ever be equivalent to Mom's soul.
I never thought I would be satisfied with such an answer.
"It's okay," I said, and lit the torch: it burned hot and bright before me, singeing my very real, very human, fingertips. It warmed my face with its heat, its natural beauty. In my hands, it was another choice to be made. It was throwing away childish abandon and Mom's smiles, her affectionate touches against my hair while saying it's time to go to bed now and leaving behind those summer days where she would praise me and where she would hug Al, who was still so human and happy and where none of us were without one another because Mom hadn't left at all and where her grave wasn't out front in the rain and in the snow, in the orange twilight and wet with dew in the morning, because she hadn't left so suddenly, unfairly and it was my chance to make the right decision for once, for all the right reasons instead of the wrong ones. I knew that it took one throw and the past would be devoured in flames. One throw and it did.
I never thought I could watch my own house burn to the ground.
"It's going to be okay."
It was a step away from those mistakes, our sins, and the movement forward into another day. It was time for me to look out for Al, who I should have been concerning myself with the entire time. That night was the night I understood what it meant to be a brother and what responsibility I had to Al, and to Mom, wherever she was in the world beyond. That determination kept the heat from the flames from scorching me. That resolution allowed me to put one foot in front of the other without hesitating when we walked away.
I never thought that setting fires could make a person understand what was truly important.
The day we burned our house down was the day we knew we would never have a home to go back to, because without Mom, it had ceased to be a home. Because of what we did within those walls, it could no longer be called a home. To us it was merely a house. And such a house was meant to be burned.
I never thought I would want to remember something like that.
But I can never forget.
3. Oct. 10.