AU. Alphonse waited at the end of the line, feeling as though he were luggage. But now that he and many other children had been evacuated from the cities and industrial areas, all they could do was...
Shrapnel - Settling In
I arrived in Rizenbul safely. Not many people wanted to take me and the other children in. I was the last one there after two hours, and I thought there might not be any homes left. Miss Taylor told me not to worry.
Mrs Rockbell and her granddaughter Winry came to the station then and said I could stay with them in their house. Mrs Rockbell wants me to call her Granny.
"You're writing a letter already?" Winry asked. Her voice came as quite a surprise to Alphonse, who had completely absorbed himself in his writing. He quickly threw himself across the paper. It wasn't that there was anything he wanted to hide; years of dealing with his brother snooping about his journal entries had conditioned this particular reaction.
The girl looked absolutely bewildered at the response, and he gave an embarrassed smile and shifted back in the chair. "Yes, for my father," he said, after a moment. "I asked Mrs... Granny if she had any paper I could use. Dad should know I'm okay."
The bewilderment faded to make way for mild annoyance. "But Al!" Winry protested, with a whining note to her voice. "You've barely been here an hour, you need to come downstairs and play with Den and me! Write your letter later!"
'Well, it wouldn't be nice to say no,' Alphonse thought, as he voiced his agreement. 'I should try to get to know them anyway, especially since I don't know how long I'm going to be staying here.'
The girl leaned on the back of the chair, and showed him a little felt mouse, with an apparently removable key half-inserted into its back. "I can show you how to make a clockwork mouse if you want," she suggested. Her face seemed to light up with enthusiasm at the thought, and she grinned. "Den likes chasing them."
"Okay, that sounds fun," Alphonse said, meaning to sound interested but failing quite miserably.
Winry pouted at this lack of enthusiasm. "Or we could try a frog, but the leaping mechanism's hard for a beginner, and Den's scared of them."
"A mouse is fine," Alphonse assured her, with a smile as he stood up. "Is Granny making dinner? It smells good."
"Yes!" Winry confirmed, putting the toy back in the pocket of her dungarees. "She's made a hotpot, it's been in the oven ages."
"Maybe she needs help?" Al suggested. "Like laying the table or something. Don't you want to ask?"
Winry shook her head. "No, she'll tell me to get out of the kitchen. Probably you too, but you can go see if you want." She beamed. "I'll go get my stuff! I'll put it all in the living room. We can do it after we've eaten!" Before Al could say anything, the girl had darted off, presumably to her bedroom. Alphonse shook his head in slight amusement, before heading downstairs and to the kitchen.
The first thing Alphonse had noticed when he had arrived was the amount of space in the house, and the kitchen was no exception. Unlike the kitchen at home, which had been small and rather cluttered, this room was well-kept and tidy.
Mrs Pinako Rockbell was seated at the kitchen table, curls of smoke coming from the long pipe in her mouth as she read a thick cookbook. Alphonse stood nervously in the doorway for a moment before finally entering and approaching the woman at the table.
"Um, excuse me, Granny," he said, quietly.
Granny looked up at him, a warm smile spreading across her face in response, allowing Al to feel more at ease. "Is something wrong?" she inquired. "Were you able to finish your letter?" Alphonse shook his head with a gentle laugh.
'She knew Winry would interrupt,' he realised. Looking back, he really should have guessed when he had asked for the paper, as there had been a knowing grin on her face when she had given it to him. "No, nothing's wrong," he answered. "I can finish my letter later. I was just wondering if... well, if you wanted any help with cooking."
Granny chuckled. "You don't need to worry about that. It's all made, just about ready in fact. And besides, cooking your meals is certainly not a problem."
Alphonse nodded. "But..."
An eyebrow was raised curiously. "But?" the woman prompted.
"It wouldn't really be fair, would it?" Al said. "Isn't everything based on equivalent trade?"
Granny's entire face seemed to grin. "Alchemist's son, right?" Just as Alphonse was about to ask how she knew, she continued. "Only met a few alchemists myself, but they all seemed quite attached to the 'equivalent trade' idea. If you ask me, I say it's rather ridiculous. Life's not alchemy, is it now?"
Alphonse fumbled with words for a moment. "Dad and Ed are always saying... I mean... well, I guess not. But it's only right to help. I mean, you did let me come and live with you."
"And equivalent trade would mean I would need to live with you," Granny pointed out. "But I'll settle for having you help Winry with her chores." She gave him a warm smile, before gesturing towards the open door. "I'll be dishing up in just a moment, so go and wash your hands while I do that. Let Winry know too, that girl always gets all kinds of stuff over her hands."
- - -
After dinner, Alphonse had helped Winry with the dishes. The girl had been quite pleased with the help, though she had insisted that she only dry while Al washed. At first, she claimed that it would be far more organised, although moments later she admitted that she just didn't like soapy water. Now they were both sat on the noticeably worn wooden floor of the living room, where Winry happily scattered her tools. Gears, wire, felt, a key, scissors, glue, a black felt-tip pen, and a few miscellaneous items Alphonse had never seen before. "You're really supposed to sew the felt, but I like to glue it because it's faster. I really only like making the inner mechanism that makes it work," Winry explained, as she passed Alphonse a sheet of paper covered in scrawled writing and childish drawings. Instructions, he realised.
"How did you learn to make them?" Alphonse asked, curiously. "Did Granny show you?"
Winry shook her head, and then grinned proudly. "I bought a couple from the village shop and took them apart to find out how they worked!" she replied. "I taught myself how to make the mice, and then I made the frog by myself. Oh!"
She dug into the tin she'd brought from her bedroom, and pulled out a little green frog-shaped toy. "Look," she said. She placed a key into its back and wound it, and then placed it on the floor, where it hopped across the room. "I had to try a few times to get it to work," she admitted, "but I really like it!"
Alphonse watched the frog hop a few times more before it stopped. "Wow," he said. "I'm not sure I could do that."
"Sure you can!" Winry assured. "Just follow my instructions, and you'll be fine!"
The boy looked at the instructions again. While it certainly appeared that she knew what she was doing, Winry's handwriting was barely readable, and the instructions were written with no sense of order. 'Has she tried to teach anyone else?' he wondered. The diagram looked like it was more informative than the instructions themselves. "Maybe I could use alchemy to make it?" he suggested. 'As long as I know where all the parts go, that could work...'
"Use what?" Winry inquired.
"Alchemy," Al repeated. "Haven't you met any alchemists?"
Winry shook her head.
"Well, I can show you," Alphonse said, smiling. It looked like he'd get a chance to show Winry something new, at least. It hopefully meant he was not as boring a companion as he suspected. "Can I draw on the back of this?"
"No!" the girl responded, as though the idea were outrageous, and she snatched the sheet of instructions back to hold it to her chest. "This is important."
Al couldn't hide the disappointed look on his face. "But Winry, I need something to draw on. I can't draw on the floor, Granny wouldn't like it."
Winry looked thoughtful a moment, before she grinned and darted out of the room. Moments later, she returned - Alphonse's letter to his father in her hand. "Draw on the back of that!" she said, passing the letter to Al.
Al was silent a moment, before he sighed. "Alright," he said, reluctantly, and placed the letter on the floor with its blank side facing up. He took the felt-tip and drew a simplistic transmutation circle on the sheet while Winry leaned over curiously. 'This ink's going to seep through,' he thought with mild annoyance. This was a letter! His father most likely wouldn't mind there being an array drawn onto it, but Al felt rather uncomfortable. He usually tried to keep his writings as neat as he could.
When he finished, he examined the drawing. This particular array was one of the first he'd learned - Edward had taken a book, 'An Introduction to Alchemy' from their father's collection. They learned soon after that it had in fact been written by the man, and many of the pages were littered with notes that suggested that he intended to revise it.
The two had studied it quite intently, and though Ed took a far greater interest in putting alchemy into practice than he did, Al found this one array to be useful, especially when it came to broken toys. It didn't alter the materials much at all, it just moved them around.
"What's that?" Winry asked.
"A transmutation circle," Alphonse replied. "Can you put all the parts I'll need on it?"
Winry had a confused frown on her face, but did as she had been asked. "Now what?"
"Watch," Al said, as he placed both hands on the circle, frowning in concentration. 'I hope I remembered how it goes together,' he worried. 'Maybe I should have looked at the instructions again.' There was a glow for a moment as the reaction took place, and once it was faded there was a little green felt mouse with a hole in its back where a key should go.
The girl had retreated to the wall, eyes wide with shock. For a moment, Al was worried that he had scared her, but then she rushed back over and practically threw herself back on the floor to stare at the toy. "Wh-what was that?" she asked, excitedly. "Magic?"
Al felt rather confused. "No, it's /alchemy/. I said so just a minute ago. Can I have the key to see if it works?"
Winry looked around for the key, which had been lost amongst all of the other stuff from her tin, before handing it to Al with a grin. Alphonse smiled nervously, and wound the key in the little mouse's back. He set it on the floor.
There was a pause. "Oh," Alphonse said, disappointed. "It doesn't work... I must have made it wrong."
Winry picked the mouse up off the floor, and pulled off the felt cover. "Look," she said, before proceeding to explain exactly why it wasn't working and suggesting he try again. By the time Granny came in to tell them to put everything away, Den had exhausted himself by chasing the multiple little clockwork mice across the living room floor.
- - -
I wanted to write a letter as soon as I arrived, but that would have been rude. Winry showed me how to make a toy mouse. I didn't really understand how to do it, so I used alchemy to make one. Winry never saw alchemy before because there are no alchemists in Rizenbul, so it surprised her. She says she does not want to try it because she likes to make things with tools.
We wound up the toy mice and played with the puppy, Den. He really liked chasing them, but he became tired and we had to let him sleep.
Granny made hotpot for dinner. It was really nice. I made sure to thank her and helped Winry wash the dishes and tidy the kitchen while Granny went to do some work. She is a mechanic working with automail. It sounds difficult.
I'm still really missing Ed. It would be more fun if both of us were playing with Winry and Den. Ed would be showing off, and complaining about being taken out of Central, because he really wanted to go to that Grammar School. I know I can't change what happened, but I still wish I could.
I hope you are well,
Al checked over the letter for any mistakes; he put great effort into his Amestrian, and didn't want the letter to be spoiled by poor spelling or sentence structure. He smiled when he felt it was to his satisfaction, and placed it inside an envelope. If he sent it tomorrow, it would probably take about a week to receive a reply, considering the distance between Rizenbul and Central.
He wondered if Granny would come and tell him to go to bed soon. The woman had already told him what time she expected the two children to go to bed, and explained that she would come and check, especially as Winry had been known to stay awake long past her bedtime tinkering with her tools.
Alphonse gave his surroundings a quick scan. The guest bedroom was very different from the small bedroom he and Edward had shared back in Central, though he was sure this was not the only reason it felt so foreign to him. The room was mostly plain - the only real colour in here was from the old patchwork quilt Granny had provided him with, and even that had faded significantly. It also had an odd smell about it, probably because it had been packed away in an airing cupboard for a long time.
He quietly murmured reassurances to himself, as he finally began to unpack the suitcase. 'This feels so strange... but it's not that bad. It's warm and comfortable in here, and Granny and Winry are nice, good people. It just doesn't feel right.'