Disclaimer: I own nothing.

Note: This takes place after the series ends, but basically ignores movie-verse (as it had a dumb ending anyway) and continues on from the original point. I'd explain more about it, but I don't want to ruin the movie for those who haven't seen it. :grumbles: Not like there's much to ruin anything with an ending like that. No, seriously.

Anyway, enjoy.

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Every day since finding my way back home, I've watched him.

I wake up, and if he's sleeping a bit later than usual, I simply sit on top of the bed and observe him. Not for long, because I want to wake him up and eat breakfast, but I like to watch him.

Sometimes I wake up and he's already downstairs. None of the Rockbells know it, but I wait until the sounds of breakfast fill the room, and I creep along the top of the stairs, observing my brother as he eats. I like to listen to the enthusiastic sound of his voice, and I secretly thank whatever god exists that my little brother is alive and well.

After all, it has only been three days since I returned to find him at home, living at the Rockbells. Just like we used to, before we set out on our journey. He had smiled by way of greeting, asked me how I was, and proceeded to ask me where I had gone with the expected question of why didn't you take me with you. I had assumed he would ask that question – it was inevitable, but it did not lessen the guilt and pain I felt when I heard it.

The reason I had anticipated such a thing is because ever since we were old enough to try and take our first steps, one of us was never seen without the other. We had been an inseparable pair no matter what.

I had thought frantically for an answer that would momentarily satisfy his curiosity so that when the time came for a "brotherly chat", I would have a more in-depth answer ready. It was a better idea than trying to think of some crazed lie I knew he would never believe.

Fortunately, Aunt Pinako and Winry had saved me by talking to me in private and telling Al that I needed some rest. I would be available to answer questions later.

As far as I am aware, he still knows about alchemy, but his skill is only as advanced as it was the day we attempted to transmute our mother, and he does not remember attempting to transmute her at all. He has no horrific memories or any troubling thoughts about our mother. While it is obvious that he can notice our mother's absence at this point, Winry later confessed to me that they are not sure how to tell him about Mom. They are not sure how he will react, so they want me to explain. That is another thing to be expected, since I have always been closest to him.

At first, I had been happy about the fact that he could not remember the horrifying event. I had been grateful he could not remember the suffering and the pain, and that he could not remember witnessing the blood and raw truth about human transmutation. Before, he had been able to stand by me, but it was not the same. He had been encased in metal. I could not reach out and touch him, and feel the texture of soft skin.

However, even after realising he is here and secure, away from trying to attempt dangerous risks with my encouragement, he is not the same person. He is still my little brother, but all the trials we had gone through as siblings before have not influenced his thoughts or behaviours. He is innocent.

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Ever since coming back, I like to take comfort in the fact that he is nearby, and nothing will happen to him. Not if I can help it.

Even if he never regains his memories and realises how close he came to disappearing from this world entirely, I will always be grateful. My sacrifice was another chance for him to live his childhood, and if I had to give any of my limbs for him – I would. Even if he does not understand the chance he was given. I know he is okay now, and that is enough for me.

Anything for him to be happy, alive and well.

I spend time with him everyday, just like I used to. Nothing has changed between us. He is still my best friend, and in a way, my responsibility. But being able to remember what happened to him gives me an advantage: I can protect him now, something I could not do properly before.

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"Brother," he says one day while playing with the puppy. "Are we going on a journey sometime?"

I stand there, observing him as I often like to do nowadays. "Do you really want to?"

"Of course!" The puppy falls onto its back, waiting for Al to rub its tummy, which he does with an affectionate smile. "It'd be neat to get out and see the world for what it's really like."

You have no memories of what the world is really like, Al.

He is still my brother, just not as I knew him.

"Plus," he adds, grabbing my attention again as he pats the dog. He pauses for a moment before standing up and meeting my gaze. "I want to learn more about alchemy."

This is the problem. In a way, I don't want him to learn more advanced alchemy. If he does, he might want to try more dangerous transmutations, as he used to before we combined our efforts to transmute our mother, and I know he isn't quite ready to control more complex alchemy, yet. This Alphonse does not remember the consequences of dangerous transmutation. I try to deter his interest, although knowing him, my attempts will be futile.

"Al, maybe we should wait. We're still a bit young to go out into the world, and you need to improve your alchemy skills."

His face falls, and I wish I had not said those last few words. "But I thought I was getting better, Brother. I thought you told me that I was really working hard, and that as long as I did my best we would eventually accomplish whatever we set out to do. That was why we wanted to learn alchemy in the first place, to make Mom happy."

"I know I said that, but…" I frantically search for something to say, something that will still get my point across without hurting his feelings. "I looked in those old alchemy books, and there's a lot of stuff we still can't do. I think it'd be too dangerous to try."

Like human transmutation.

But that eager expression lights up his face.

"Al?"

"We can try, Brother." He approaches me, his eyes shining with pride and determination. It suddenly strikes me how similar our appearances are, even if, due to circumstances, four years of growth separate us. We have the same golden eyes, only his is a hint lighter and his hair is slightly shorter and curves towards his neck. We have the same smile, the same frown when things don't work according to plan, and the same determination to set things right. "You always said we would gain more experience by going out into the world."

He has my enthusiasm, and at this moment, I realize we are not just brothers by blood… he is my brother is friendship and love.

He is Al, and nothing can change that. That is why I have to lie to him. I don't want to see his innocence destroyed – not by a Homunculus, not by a corpse from a failed transmutation, and not by my foolish interests or wants.

So I turn to him, and feed him a story. "Al, do you remember what happened to Mom?"

He lowers his gaze as a brief flicker of melancholy passes through his expression. "Yes. She died." It is obvious that it pains him to speak those words. The memory of her death must be fresh in his mind. Now I must distract him from the possibility of transmuting a human being back to life… to save him.

"They buried the body," I say softly. "I had to take care of some things… and I didn't want you to feel any more pain than you had to."

He looks a bit thoughtful, a slight frown on his expression, then he walks over to a nearby fence and rests his arms across it. A long moment of silence passes between us as I wait for him to say something.

It is better that he never regain his memory of the past four years. I will forever be grateful he's alive, but he doesn't need to know, or why I feel that way. To him, that horrible time has not happened, and I am determined to keep it that way for him. Because seeing him so happy, and not emotionally shadowed by the knowledge of what really happened is worth it.

I don't want to destroy who he is right now. If I have to do this to keep him happy, and not encourage any ideas he has about attempting any transmutations I undoubtedly know will be too dangerous for either of us to handle, I will. All he needs to know is that I will always be with him.

After all, he is my little brother.

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Edited and fixed: August 16th, 2006

Originally written: June ?

I have never had so much trouble maintaining my tenses before. The first night it was sent back to me with the edits, I nearly had a headache switching them all. I hope this one-shot is improved compared to my other FMA works...