A.N. My brother's graduating from college next week and then he's coming home! This little story popped up while I was considering all the ways that this year would be the best Christmas ever for my family. I present it to you in the spirit of family, brotherhood and the season of giving!
The Very Best Christmas
Ed hadn't planned on him and Al attending any sort of holiday party or dinner. It was hard enough knowing their mother wasn't there to celebrate with them. Harder still since this would be their first Christmas away from Risembool.
But Hughes' offer to spend Christmas Eve with his family was surprisingly hard to turn down. Especially with a dozen pictures of Elysia in an elf costume shoved in his face.
At least Al is enjoying himself, Ed thought as he leaned against the mantle in the Hughes' family room. The party hadn't extended back here out of respect for the family's privacy. A small tree bedecked with ornaments dominated the corner and Maes had already set out presents for his family. The lights were out, but the candles on the mantle and the crackling fireplace were enough.
Outside this little sphere of isolation, the house was packed with people. Mustang and his entourage had been invited to the party, of course. Ed had seen the colonel only once, drink in hand as he tried in vain to fend off a cheerfully intoxicated Maes. But most of the others were strangers.
Still, despite the unfamiliar faces, it was almost identical to the celebrations in Risembool where the residents would take it in turns to host parties on Christmas Eve. One year, the entire town had converged on their house and all the children had been kicked outside to play until dinner while the adults mingled indoors. On a dare, Ed had snuck in to spy on the 'grown-up party', for he couldn't help but wonder what he was missing out on.
Not much, he realized now. To think that only last year he was still considered a child. Last year, he and Al had spent the holidays with Granny and Winry as their surrogate family and Ed had been convinced that spending Christmas without their mother was the worst thing that could have ever happened to them.
Now, he would give anything to have that back. To see Al unwrapping presents with a big smile on his face, wolfing down turkey and gravy and apple pie…
Ed closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, willing the tight knot in his chest to unwind. Why couldn't he just let the past go? Here he was at a wonderful party with adults who cared enough to make sure he and Al weren't left alone on Christmas Eve. Why couldn't he just be grateful for that without pining for everything they didn't have?
A hand far larger than it should have been touched his shoulder. Ed didn't respond at first, wishing Al would leave him be. But no, he shouldn't wish for that. Not when Al was the only family he had left.
Ed slid a hand inside his jacket and pulled out a small envelope with a green ribbon wrapped neatly around the middle. His gift to Al. His brother who couldn't eat or sleep, couldn't walk around without attracting stares. But what if he didn't like it? What if he hated Ed for reminding him of everything he had lost?
Only one way to find out. And if it made Al happy, wasn't that worth all the time Ed spent agonizing over whether to give it to him?
Envelope in hand, Ed turned swiftly and froze. In his other hand, Al held a small package wrapped in red with gold ribbon. Ed's favorite colors.
"Al," Ed said in a hushed voice.
Al held out the gift, somehow managing to portray an embarrassed sort of happiness through his voice alone. "Merry Christmas, Brother."
They swapped gifts and sat on the floor back to back to open them. Ed untied the ribbon on his gift with some trepidation. For the life of him, he couldn't imagine what Al might have gotten him. He couldn't remember saying he wanted anything in particular…
Ed lifted the lid off the box and gasped. There, buried in an ocean of tissue paper, was a little horse made of shiny metal. The very same one he had given his mother and watched her place on a shelf beside her bed...where it stayed until the day they left Risembool for good. Or so he thought.
Ed turned the horse over and over in his hands. He had been so proud when he made it because it was one hundred percent his work, crafted without Al's help. It seemed so much smaller now and it was not without its flaws. But it was still perfect in his eyes, just as it had been in his mother's.
Ed turned around, holding the silver horse close to his chest. In Al's hands were a handful of photographs, the majority from Al's last birthday party before their mother died. Everywhere he looked in them, there was Al's smiling face surrounded by friends and family. But Ed's favorite was the one that showed just the two of them, chins slathered with cake frosting as they smiled for the camera.
"When did you get these?" Al asked, his voice cracking. "I thought we lost them all in the fire."
"I got them the day we burned the house down," Ed explained. "I gave some to Winry and Granny for safekeeping, but…I guess I just couldn't let them all go. But when did you get…?"
"I went on the same day you did," Al said, laughing at the irony. "We must have just missed each other. I couldn't decide what to keep at first, but mom always loved that horse you made. I just couldn't think of the right time to give it to you."
Ed dropped his gaze to the horse cradled in his hands, his lips quirking up into a smile. "What a couple of saps we are…"
Al carefully slipped the photos back into the envelope and they hugged as best they could, considering Al's armor. Outside, the world still turned and the party remained in full swing. But to Ed, nothing could spoil that quiet moment with his brother, not even a world that refused to stop in the face of all they had been through.
"Someday, Al," Ed whispered, "we'll get back everything we lost."
"And that year," Al added quietly, "we'll have the best Christmas ever."