Al stared blankly ahead to where Winry was working on her newest project. The window was open and he could hear the birds chirping outside as they enjoyed the warm spring air. He could smell the grass and stream beyond that; and, for a moment, Alphonse wanted to go outside and do something. Maybe take a walk, or play on the tree swing.
How stupid... he thought to himself. He was an adult now and such things were looked down on. But he didn't feel like an adult; not inside. Al remembered 'growing up' mentally as he journeyed with his brother, but Alphonse didn't remember such things at all. He felt at a complete loss as to what he should do or how he should act. He'd suddenly been thrust into this world of adulthood and he couldn't help feeling angry and confused.
He sighed. Maybe not so angry anymore... at least, not with Ed. He'd had quite a few months to think over what Colonel Mustang had said. It had been difficult to let go of the hate—both for himself and for Ed—because when he did, there was only pain left. He felt weak admitting that he was hurt because there was nothing to protect him from the pain.
But it had helped. And with that, and the help of Winry and Pinako, life had become better after a while. The more mature Al and the younger and more pain ridden Alphonse had been able to come to some sort of emotional understanding. He didn't feel like he was torn in two anymore...
Winry looked up at him and a small smile touched her lips, and he smiled back before she turned her attention back to her work.
Life had gotten better after he'd been able to find balance, yet he still felt sad. If only there was a way he could see Ed again. If only they could talk.
Colonel Mustang had said he was going to try to help Ed, but there had been no word from him in months. In fact, no one knew where Roy Mustang was. The police were looking for him and had declared him a wanted criminal, and the military was searching for him on the grounds of desertion. Al hadn't thought they could accuse such a thing if the country wasn't at war, but who understood the military anyway? Al had an idea that they just didn't like losing one of their most talented alchemists, and perhaps they were afraid he would join with another country to fight against Amestris.
But it was all speculation in Al's mind. He really didn't know, and he doubted he'd ever find out. He was just disappointed that nothing had ever come of him helping Ed like he'd said he would... Or... maybe he had tried to help Ed and something had gone wrong... That thought made him feel even worse.
His attention was pulled away from Winry, the window, and his thoughts when he heard a knock at the front door.
"I'll get it," Winry offered, moving to put her screwdriver down, but he was already on his feet and he waved a hand at her.
"You work. I'll get it."
She shrugged and turned her attention back to the automail. He took one last moment to observe her. They hadn't been on very good terms before Colonel Mustang had paid them a visit. Looking back, it wasn't hard to see why. He'd been so angry and aggressive, and prone to quick attitude changes, that the thought of it even made him unnerved.
With a small smile at Winry that she didn't see, he left her to her work and walked to the door. As he pulled it open, nothing could have prepared him for what was waiting for him.
"Hi..." Ed said quietly from the other side of the screen door. And it was Ed. It was his brother, not just the shell he had been, but the real and whole person.
His chest felt tight and he blinked several times as if to affirm that he wasn't just seeing things. "Brother...?" Al breathed, not daring to believe what his eyes told him was true. His heart beat wildly in his chest from nervousness, and he felt sweat begin to prickle at his forehead.
Ed nodded, then glanced away for a moment before looking back and saying, "I'm not here for long. I just... I wanted..." He sounded almost afraid now and Al instantly felt ashamed. He'd done so many bad things to Ed... He'd been wrong, he'd...
"Brother... I... I've changed... I'm not..." Al stumbled over his words. How could he explain what he had a hard time understanding himself? He was ashamed of how he'd behaved and was afraid that Ed would hate him.
"I know. I can see it in your eyes," Ed murmured. His voice was full of compassion and understanding.
There was a moment of awkward silence between the two, then Al asked nervously, "Do you want to come inside?"
Ed stared at him for a moment in consideration, then shook his head. "No. I..." His tone was regretful now. "I don't want to stay long and I don't really want to talk to anyone else. Not now. Maybe another time..."
"Then I'll come outside," Al said, understanding that if Winry laid eyes on Ed, she would insist on him staying for a while. And while that was exactly what Al wanted, he'd had his fill of forcing Ed to do things he didn't want to. Letting himself outside, Al got his first really good look at his brother.
Ed was dressed in worn traveling clothes—dark brown slacks; a dusky-looking, long-sleeved shirt that must have been white at one time; white gloves to hide the automail; and his hair gathered at the base of his neck the style their father had worn. A suitcase was sitting at his feet, and Al suddenly had a vision of his brother during the times they'd traveled together.
"You've become a traveler?" Al asked, eyeing him. He had the sudden desire to leave Rizembool and go with Ed. Travel and just be them. He wanted the closeness with Ed that he'd had before they'd tried to get their mother back, or even when they'd traveled around the country to search for the Philosopher's Stone.
"I suppose you could say that," Ed said with a small smile. His voice, eyes, and body language all screamed how much Ed had matured. Al wanted to step forward and embrace him, but he felt dirty and undeserving. Self-hate filled him and he suddenly wanted nothing more than to run away and hide.
"Al..." Ed said quietly, reaching out and setting a hand on Al's shoulder. "Don't look at me like that..."
"But I..." he said, his voice full of emotion. How could he explain? How could he make Ed understand?
Ed shook his head, stepped forward, and wrapped his arms around Al. "I didn't come back right away because I had a lot to think about. I... I still have a hard time forgiving myself, but... maybe if you forgive me, then I'll be able to forgive me too..."
"Brother!" Al cried, hugging him back tightly. "It's me who should ask you for forgiveness!"
Ed moved back a little so that he could stare into Al's eyes and whispered harshly, "I was angry at first... when I realized—really realized—what you had done. I felt so... betrayed... but... I understand that even though part of you wanted to hurt me, part of you also wanted to help..." He gave Al a small, rueful smile. "I read the book you gave Mustang and he also left me a long letter." Ed took a deep breath. "So yes, I forgive you... I do." He blinked rapidly, as if trying to hold back the tears that wanted to accompany the strong emotion coming from him. "Do you... can you...?" The words were choked out and Al could hear the fear in them—the same fear he'd felt.
And, at that moment, all the anger, hate, worry, and pain was released and the younger Alphonse seemed to take over in that moment. He pulled Ed close and exclaimed, "Yes! Yes, brother! I forgive you! I'm sorry I was so mad! I was just hurt and lonely! I know you'd never leave me alone like that!"
They stood together for a long time, each holding the other. Tears of sorrow, pain, relief, and happiness mingled with smiles and slight touches of laughter. They'd been through so much, they'd made so many mistakes, they'd done so much that was wrong that it was hard to believe that anything could ever be right again. But, in that moment, everything was right and the future held so much promise for both of them.
The moment seemed to last forever, and yet not long enough, then it was over as heavy clunking footsteps sounded up the stairs to the porch. Al pulled away and looked over to see a small boy of about four or five looking at them with bewilderment on his face. His short, and very fine, black hair moved a little in the slight breeze, and his large black eyes studied them intensely before holding up his hands—which were held together and covered in mud—and saying in a matter-of-fact tone, "I found a frog."
He opened his hands and a muddy clump 'ribbited' and jumped out of his grip and onto the porch. His eyes widened and his mouth made a large 'O', then he yelped, "It got away!" and scrambled after it.
"Let it go..." Ed said dryly, eyeing the boy and looking none too pleased with how much mud was covering his shoes, pants, and hands. "Didn't I tell you to stay on the step?"
The boy looked at him quizzically for a moment, then his delicate black eyebrows raised as remembrance filled his face. Al noticed a slight shrewdness fill the boy's eyes—something that would only lead to greater cunning in future years as he matured—before he hurried over to Ed and hugged his leg; looking up at with a brilliant smile on his face.
"I love you, teacher!" the boy exclaimed. No matter how true that might have been, Al recognized the manipulative attempt to get out of trouble for what it was.
Ed looked down and said flatly, "You're still in trouble." When the boy realized he wasn't going to get the desired response, he stuck out his bottom lip, moved over to the steps, and sat heavily with his back turned to them and his arms folded.
Al might have laughed at the whole exchange if he didn't feel so dazed. He glanced up at Ed with wide eyes and said, "Is that...? It looks just like..." He stopped, trying to gather his thoughts, then said, "But it can't be... right?"
Ed looked over at the boy and said quietly, "He was wrong, Al... They were able to take something from him. Even if he ever got his memories back, he could never be who he used to be. His age alone marked him for who he was. In twenty or thirty years, no one will look at him and know his identity. He hasn't been confirmed dead, so he has no legacy to leave behind because the history books haven't closed on him yet."
He shook his head almost in disbelief. "In taking away what he truly believed couldn't be taken—the one thing left that really mattered to him—they also gave him something in return." A small smile touched his face. "Another chance..." Ed glanced at Al and he could see the look of determination in his eyes. "I'm going to teach him. I'll teach him alchemy and I'll teach him to fight. I'm going to give him a new life, and maybe this time he can be happy." Another glance at the boy, then back to Al. "It's the least I can do."
Al swallowed and nodded. He understood. Roy Mustang had done a lot for the two of them. If it hadn't been for him, Ed might have never been able to join the military or even thought of the idea. Roy Mustang had made things happen for them while they were searching, and he had been willing to help them out of the mess he and Ed had created for themselves. He had given them another chance... Was it possible that fate had decided the colonel deserved another chance as well—some sort of gift for his selflessness?
But Al wasn't one to believe in chance.
"I have to go," Ed said finally. "We try to keep on the move."
"Will you come back; to visit, I mean?" Al asked.
A small smile played out on Ed's face. "Yeah. Sometime. But not now." Ed picked up his suitcase and said, "Tell Winry and Pinako..." He trailed off for a moment, then said, "Tell them that I said 'hi'."
Al nodded and watched as Ed walked over to the boy and nudged him with his foot. "Alright, brat. Time to go."
All previous pouting forgotten, the boy practically bounced to his feet and bounded down the steps where he waited impatiently for Ed to join him. Ed stopped at the bottom and gave Al one last look—one that said he wouldn't disappear, but would keep in touch—before taking the child's hand with his free one and starting away down the dusty road.
A/N: I'm both excited and sad to see this story all posted. I worked so long on it. There were times I would pour over this story, sometimes over one little part for hours, and then other times I just left it alone for months.
I know not all your questions are answered, but sometimes I think it's better to leave room for the imagination.
When I started this story, I had an idea for another story that I would like to write after this one. It wouldn't be a suspense like this one and really one wouldn't need to have read this story to 'get' the next story since I would touch lightly on why Roy was younger than Ed and all of that.
I've ho-hummed about it here and there. The story would be cute and fun to write, but that was almost 3 years ago and I have since acquired many projects that I would like to finish (and that I know others would really like me to finish). There is always the possibility that such a story or 'continuation' might be forthcoming, but it's very low on my list at this time in my life.
But yes, I am sad to see it all posted because that means that this story really has reached an end, but I'm also happy because I was able to share it with those of you who have decided to read it.
I'd like to give a huge thank-you to my very awesome beta, Masamune Reforged. I couldn't ask for a better beta then him.
I'd also like to thank you all for reading and letting me share this story with you. I hope you've enjoyed the journey.