"Promise me you'll take care of yourself." The steel in Winry's voice hasn't changed a bit despite the years, but Al still offers his arm on reflex as they turn to leave the cemetery.
She doesn't take it, and when she leans into his shoulder it's not for support either; not for her support, at least. "Al," she says again, volumes tucked into one syllable, and for a moment the thought runs morbid in his mind – how long more, until there's no one left who knows to address him by that name?
Ed had been the one to inherit Hohenheim's looks, at least until his hair began fading to silver, but in the end it's Al who really takes after their father.
Three gravestones each, in the Elrics' and Rockbells' plots; dozens more elsewhere, together or scattered throughout Amestris and beyond. Al's not sure when he started counting like this, by the too-few wrinkles he sees in the mirror, by the number of people he has left.
On days like these he wonders if the years spent at the Gate had somehow shaken him loose from the flow of time, or if this is simply the consequence of being their father's children, except that Ed had traded it away at Briggs.
(If that's the case then Al cannot be anything but so fiercely glad it hurts, because the only thing worse than the years stretching out before him would've been seeing Ed go through it.
At least Al's aging, if improbably slowly, and when he dies he knows with odd certainty that it'll stick. The differences had thrown him off at first; made him too uncertain to voice it lest that give the suspicion reality, then too reluctant because they'd all been through enough, until finally it'd become so obvious that it hardly bore saying anymore.
You come join us only when you're ready, you hear me? Ed had said, arms gripped warm and strong across his back. I'll beat Hohenheim up for you first, free of charge.
Al had hugged back just as tightly, squeezing his eyes shut for a breath because his brother at least sounded the same as ever, like this. Please don't, that'd just upset Mom, Al thinks he must've said; mostly he just remembers Ed huffing like he was gonna do it anyway.)
His throat feels closed up, choked like Resembool's skies before the first summer rains, but eventually Al finds his voice again in a sigh. "It's hard to promise when you're saying that like we won't see each other again."
He hadn't expected that to dissuade Winry, and it doesn't. "Then find someone else who'll hold you to it. I know there's loads of other people you want to see."
"I'll still come back though," he says like it's nothing, like they're not both aware that she'd said see and meant say goodbye to. "Unless you're kicking me out?"
Winry laughs – the sound is sturdier than he feels, stout as Granny had ever been in her twilight years. "Never. You'll always have a place here, promise. Even if I start charging you rent for it!"
Al smiles without quite realising it, and lets himself lean against her too, just a little. "Only if you'll be around to collect."
"You're not getting rid of me that easily," she huffs, but doesn't pull away even as her voice lilts with familiar mischief. "Though if you think that my kids or their kids would hesitate at extorting their dear uncle, you clearly haven't been paying enough attention."
"Daylight robbery," he grumbles as they pass by the weathered sign of Rockbell Automail, and if he looks close enough Al knows that he can still see the +Elric that Ed had carved in the spring after they'd moved back to Resembool; they'd never painted the letters in like the rest of the sign, but it's there nonetheless.
Winry catches his hand, tangling their fingers briefly before letting go to unlock the front door. "C'mon, I'll walk you through the apple pie recipe again, so try not to mess up the crust this time."
Al ducks his head with a sheepish grin. "I'll try my best," he says, and means it.