Nearly four years after the events of Conqueror of Shamballa changed his life, Edward Elric finds himself staring at a mirror image, and he's not at all comfortable with what he sees.
Alphonse Elric tore his eyes away from the viewfinder on his camera, aimed at the spectacle in front of him, and yelled over the noise of the crowd to his brother, "This is incredible!"
Staring up at the paper drifting down from the windows above them like some bizarre summer snowstorm, Edward Elric nodded, "It is! He made it across the entire ocean in less than two days! Remember how long it took us on that ship?" The last automobile in the motorcade passed in front of them, causing a surge of confetti from above, and Edward turned away from the street to begin walking down the crowded sidewalk.
The two brothers walked in silence for several city blocks, weaving their way around eddies of people. It was a warm summer day for New York City, and Al was just about to break the silence between them by suggesting a detour through Central Park when an angry shout from ahead caught their attention. "I don't have all day for you to learn how to put one foot in front of the other! Move it, jerk!" a female voice demanded. Craning his neck, Al saw the top of a light blonde head bob along insistently.
Whoever the blonde was yelling at apparently got the point, for the mass in front of her parted, and she dashed along. The young woman scurried past them, in such a hurry that all Al could make out of her was a flash of purple skirt and blonde hair. He turned to comment on the appearance of the aggressive young woman to his older brother, but the words died in his throat when he saw his brother's face. Edward Elric stood frozen to the spot, his face as pale as if he'd seen a ghost. For the rest of their walk home, Al tried to engage his older brother in conversation, but Ed remained distant and withdrawn.
Al frowned to himself as he took a picture of sunset over the skyline from the window of their small suite of rooms. Ed had waved his younger brother on home, explaining he wanted to check on his lab equipment and didn't want to bore Al, but that had been hours ago and Al was beginning to get worried.
An insistent purr, accompanied by warm fur rubbing up against his ankles, grabbed Al's immediate attention, and he smiled down at the ginger-coloured cat. "Hungry, Hawkeye?" he asked the feline as he drew the curtains closed and headed to the ice box. The sound of the opening ice box brought a dark grey cat around the corner, and Al grinned as the ginger meowed loudly at the grey. "Don't worry, Mustang, you'll get your turn too. Hawkeye won't take all your milk."
Just as Al finished pouring out two dishes of milk, the front door opened, and a disheveled Edward entered, shedding his overcoat. "Letting the cats boss you around again, Al?" he asked, tired amusement in his voice as he put away his coat. The grey cat turned away from his supper and hissed, causing Ed to glare, muttering, "I hate that damned cat."
Hiding a small, relieved smile, Al put away the cats' milk and put a kettle of water on to boil. It seems Ed's strange mood had abated, if not entirely disappeared; in the years since he'd been reunited with Ed in this strange new world, Al had become used to this older, more somber Edward, and he accepted this change in his brother as a product of maturity. He still worried about Ed's well-being, but he accepted that there were some things his brother simply would not share.
Al checked his pocket watch before knocking on a heavy, nondescript door with his free hand. An older man with brown hair opened the door and gave Al a smile. "Hello, Professor Roberts," Al greeted the man.
The man, Ed's instructor and the head of aerodynamic research at the lab, paused in his struggle with his coat to respond, "How's work with the Times, Alphonse? I saw one of your photographs from the Lindbergh parade. You've got a gift with that camera." Al blushed at the compliment as Roberts continued, "See if you can get that stubborn boy you call your brother to quit early. It's going to start getting cold soon; you boys should get plenty of fresh air while it's still warm enough outside."
"I'll try, sir," Al promised, "but you know how Ed is." Roberts nodded, all too familiar with Edward Elric's habits, and resumed putting on his coat. "Good night, Professor," Al added as the man left for the day.
With easy familiarity, Al left his camera case next to the perpetually teetering coat rack and navigated the narrow hallway strewn with half finished airplane wings until he reached another door. Hearing no loud whirling, Al knocked twice on the door and entered when he made out Ed's voice. "Brother, it's past five o'clock," Al said as he entered, "even Professor Roberts has left. Let's go home."
Ed did not tear his eyes from his workbench, where he was slowly trickling a clear liquid from a tube in his gloved hand into a seemingly empty flask. "In a few minutes," he said distractedly, "I just want to finish testing this mixture. Professor Roberts mentioned adding kerosene to blau gas. I want to try it before we go."
Al sighed silently and sat down on the nearest stool. Even though he expected Ed to still be working, Al had entertained a small hope that they could go through Central Park on the way home, since the last time he'd suggested the route, Ed had been melancholy and unresponsive after the incident with the blonde stranger.
A muffled boom and the sound of shattering glass made Al leap up with a cry. "Brother?" he cried, peering over at the small cloud that hung over Ed's workbench. "Are you all right?"
A loud cough from behind the cloud of smoke reassured Al that Ed was alive, and he relaxed. "Al, there's a telephone in the hallway," Ed said hoarsely, "Tell the operator to connect you to a doctor." Eyes wide, Al almost flew down the hall to follow Ed's instructions.
When he returned, the lab room was no longer smoky and Ed stood at the opened window. "A doctor's on his way," Al informed him, "Do you want to sit down?"
Ed turned from the window, his left hand pressed over his right cheek. "I'll be fine, just got cut a little when the flask exploded," he smiled to reassure Al, then pointed at the door, "Can you make sure the doctor can get in?" Al nodded and disappeared down the hall again.
Once he was certain Al was out of the lab, Ed pulled his hand away and winced at the bright red stain on his glove. He also hissed in pain when the act of wincing caused the cut to sting. Ed clapped his hand back over the cut and waited as patiently as he could for the doctor to arrive. He had mostly sent Al outside to wait for the doctor so his younger brother wouldn't see the blood and be worried, but now Ed was grateful for the few minutes alone.
He was more than a little angry at himself for being careless enough to cause the accident. Ever since the parade, Ed found he had trouble concentrating, his thoughts inevitably drifting back to the memory of the blonde woman he'd seen on the way home. His brief glimpse of her face haunted him and reminded him of the same face, the same light blonde hair and deep blue eyes, berating him even as she gave him new limbs she'd crafted out of blind hope that he'd return. Then, as if his very thoughts had conjured her, Winry Rockbell burst into the room, followed closely by Al.
"Winry?" Ed asked in disbelief as the blonde dropped her bag on the lab table and rifled within. The woman was the spitting image of his childhood friend; even though he'd seen several of this world's inhabitants that mirrored people he'd known, Ed was not prepared for the woman who stood in front of him, blond hair tied back except for two strands at her temples, deep blue eyes narrowed in concentration. He'd seen that same look of concentration a thousand times before bent over his automail, except now it was directed at a dark bulging bag of medical supplies.
"Sara, Sara Rockbell," she finally introduced herself as she set two bottles and a white cloth on the tabletop, "I'm the doctor from Marcoh's clinic down the street." She turned to Al, who stood just within the doorway, and ordered, "Alphonse, is it? Bring me a basin of clean water."
"Yes ma'am," Al responded, his expression mildly shell-shocked, but nowhere near as stunned as Edward's. Without another word, he scurried out of the room.
"Your brother says the experiment you were working on exploded," Sara said, opening one of the bottles and dousing her hands with the liquid within. Ed wrinkled his nose at the strong smell of alcohol that permeated the air when she rubbed her hands. "What were you experimenting with?" She gestured impatiently at his face and Ed pulled his hand away.
"Just kerosene and blau gas," he answered. At her puzzled look, he explained, "It's kind of like natural gas. Explosive, but not caustic. And it was a very small amount; it's probably gone by now. I opened the windows."
The young woman regarded her patient for a moment before waving him to a seat. "I suppose you'd know better than I would whether what you were using is dangerous to skin," she said, though her voice clearly suggested that if it were true, she would not be standing there with a bleeding patient. Ed frowned at her as he sat down, and the motion caused a fresh trickle of blood to flow down his face.
"Thank you," Sara Rockbell said distractedly when Al returned with a basin of clean water and set it down next to Ed. "And stop making faces, Edward."
Ed jumped and demanded, "How'd you know my name?"
The expression on Sara Rockbell's face was matter-of-fact, though there was a hint of surprise in her voice. "Your brother, Alphonse, told me," she explained. "Now will you please hold still so I can get you fixed up?" Before Ed could reply, she'd taken his chin firmly in hand, and begun dabbing water onto the cut.
Ed held still, trying to ignore the fact that Winry's spitting image stood over him, berating him in the same manner that Winry had hundreds of times before, and concentrated on the soothing touch of water on his skin. So focused was he on the simple sensation that he failed to notice that the young doctor had finished cleaning off the wound until he felt something burn his cheek. "What the /hell/, W-, Rockbell?" he swore, jumping out of his seat.
Sara raised her hand, showing her patient the small glass bottle labeled "Iodine" in her hand. "It's to keep your cut from getting infected," she explained, impatience apparent in her voice even as she took a seat on the edge of the lab table. "The cut on your face is fairly shallow but bloody, if you haven't noticed. I normally wouldn't do this for a shallow wound, but every time you talk, your muscles are pulling it back open, so I'm going to have to stitch it up." She glared at him and pointed the bottle at him threateningly, "Sit still and it'll be over in a few minutes." Ed glared back at her, but quickly realized that whether she answered to Winry or Sara, the female Rockbell was not going to make life easy for Edward Elric. He returned to his seat and managed to hold still as he watched her thread a needle.
The procedure was nothing like having his automail repaired, being a process of continuous dull pain instead of a sudden flood of excruciating sensation. However, the woman in front of him wore a look he'd seen time and time before. If it wasn't for the fact that the doctor was putting tiny stitches on his face, Ed could have sworn she was Winry, about to make some minute adjustment or another to his arm.
A deft knot and another dab of iodine finished the stitching and Sara peered critically at her handiwork. "I'll put a bandage on it before I go," she said, reaching for Ed's left hand. "I'm hoping all this blood on your hand is just from that cut on your face," she muttered, pulling his glove off and rolling up the sleeve. It took a few moments of scrutiny before she was satisfied his left arm was unharmed.
"When can I take these things out of my face?" Ed asked, probing at the tiny threads with a delicate finger.
Sara slapped his hand away with a glare. "You are not going to take those stitches out," she informed him. "Come by the clinic in a week and I'll take them out for you."
Ed seemed on the edge of protest when Al chimed in, "I'll make sure he comes by, Doctor. Where's your clinic again?"
"A block and a half north of here," Sara answered as both she and Al ignored the glare Ed leveled at them. "When you get to the clinic, make sure you ask for Dr. Rockbell. Marcoh's name might be on the front, but I wouldn't trust him with a bandage." Sara turned her attention back to Ed and reached for his right arm, "Let me check your right arm before I put a bandage on you and let you go."
Ed flinched as her fingertips grazed his automail and he jerked away from her. He wasn't sure what made him do it, but somehow it felt wrong to let this almost-Winry see the metal limb. "This arm's fine," he snapped, harsher than he intended.
Misinterpreting his actions, Sara frowned, reaching for him again. "You flinched. Does it hurt? It's not bleeding-"
Almost knocking the chair over in his haste to avoid Sara's inspection, Ed backed away from the well-intentioned young woman, clutching his right arm to his side. Only half understanding his brother's actions but recognizing the nervous way he eyed the doctor, Al nevertheless attempted to defuse the situation by slipping between them. "It's okay, Doctor Rockbell," he assured her with a smile. "Like you said, there's no blood, and I'll make sure Ed's arm is fine when we get home. Let's not keep you here too long. It's starting to get dark outside."
Sara still looked skeptical, her eyes lingering on Ed's gloved hand. "I suppose since it looks like your gloves are still fine, you didn't cut yourself," she allowed. "Will you come back over here so I can bandage you up?"
Ed looked distinctly uncomfortable at the idea of closing the gap between them again. "Could I just have a bandage? I'd much rather put it on myself," he asked, his voice uncharacteristically soft.
"I suppose," Sara replied, concerned at this strange behavior. She retrieved the necessary supplies from her bag and placed them on the lab table, then gathered her things together. "Alphonse, will you please walk me to the door?" she requested, glancing at Edward, who had returned to his seat at the lab bench and begun carefully attaching the pad of gauze to his face.
Al followed her gaze and nodded when his eyes landed on his older brother. "Of course," he said, leading the way.
Once safely out of the lab, Al stopped and turned back to the blonde doctor. "I'm really sorry about Ed, Dr. Rockbell," he apologized. "He's usually not like this."
Sara waved his apology away with a flick of her hand. "Your brother may get feverish tonight. It's not an uncommon reaction," she informed the young man, "Just make sure he eats something, drinks plenty of fluid, and rests."
"What should he eat?" Al asked.
"A sandwich and a glass of milk, maybe some soup would be best," Sara answered, "Nothing heavy." Al couldn't help but smile widely at the mention of milk, and Sara looked at him curiously, "Did I say something funny?"
Al shook his head and continued walking down the hall. "You just reminded me of someone when you mentioned making my brother drink milk," he said. When they'd reached the door, Al peered outside and frowned in concern, "It's starting to get dark. Are you heading back to the clinic?"
Sara smiled at Al and shook her head, "No, I closed up before I came over. I'm heading home. I just won't take my walk through Central Park tonight."
"Through Central Park?" Al echoed. "I walk through Central Park to get home!" Sara looked surprised, and a few more questions established that the Elric brothers lived only two blocks from her. "We'll walk you home sometime," Al promised, "Especially when winter comes and it gets dark early."
"It would be nice to have some company," Sara admitted, "although I don't think your brother would be very pleased by the idea. Somehow I don't think he likes me much." Although she'd met the two blond brothers only hours ago, a note of hurt still managed to creep into Sara's voice.
Al placed a hand on her shoulder and smiled sympathetically. "I think you took my brother by surprise. You remind both of us of someone we used to know," he explained with a smile, "and having to sit still while you sewed up his face probably just made him grumpy. You'll see; Ed's really a nice person."
"I'll see you around, Alphonse," Sara said, returning his smile as she stepped through the door. "Good night!"
Al stood in the doorway, watching until the blonde woman disappeared down the street. Footsteps behind him told Al that his brother had finished up in the lab. "She's this world's Winry, isn't she, Brother?" Al asked softly as he turned to face Ed.
Wordlessly, Ed handed Al his camera case and took his coat off the rack. "Let's go," Ed finally said, stepping out into the darkened street. "The cats are probably hungry."
June 13, 1927 - A ticker tape parade was held for Charles Lindbergh to commemorate his achievement of the first solo non-stop flight across the Atlantic. The flight took place between New York City, New York and Paris, France on May 20-21, 1927 and lasted 33 hours, 30 minutes, and 29.8 seconds. Lindbergh's airplane, The Spirit of St. Louis, is currently on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. in the US.
Rubbing alcohol - Though Prohibition was still alive and well during 1927, the ban on alcohol did not extend to medical uses of alcohol. Prohibition also saw a marked jump in the abuse of medicines containing alcohol, though the consumption of medical alcohol has extreme consequences, including death and blindness.