This takes place ten years after the end of the series. It also takes place after my story Two Questions, but you needn't really have read that to enjoy this.
Ed walked into the house and dropped his bag on the chair. "I'm home!" he called, and waited. No one answered. He shrugged, and hung his coat up. Winry was probably visiting a patient, and the kids- well, who knew where they were. They usually spent their after-school time playing at friends' houses or running wild outside, just like he and Al and Winry had done, when they'd had the chance. He took some of his papers and went to the study. He had grading to do, and he needed to check the revisions on his most recent book. He fully intended to take advantage of the empty house to get some work done.
As he was walking towards his study, he was intercepted by a note from Winry asking him to please take the trash out. He knew from experience that the slantiness of her handwriting disguised some serious irritation. He sighed, stopped, and did what she had asked him to do. He only grumbled a little at the interruption.
He was heading back towards his study, ready to make a start on his work, when someone knocked on the door. Ed grumbled some more, rolled his eyes, and opened it. It was a client, looking for Winry. He took a message, chatted with the man for a polite few minutes, and then showed him out.
With some impatience, he turned back towards his study and work. He had just reached the door when the phone rang. Ed growled. That was it.He stomped his way over to the phone. "What do you want!" he snarled into the receiver.
There was a pause on the other end. "Brother?" the voice on the line said, uncertainly.
Suddenly, all of Ed's frustration evaporated like it had never been there at all. "Al?" he said, incredulously, clutching the phone with both hands. "Al, is that you?"
"It's me, Brother," Al said happily. "Are you having a bad day?"
"Not anymore!" Ed said, grinning as wide as he could grin. "Where the hell are you, Al? You're not in town, are you?"
"We're in East," Al said. "But we're going to get on the train to Resembool in an hour. We were hoping that we might be able to stay with you?"
Ed leaned back against the wall, closing his eyes against the tears that were threatening to well up in them. "Damn, Al," he said. "It's been five years since I saw you last, and you think you're staying anywhere else? Winry would kill me if I let you stay in town!"
"Well, Brother," Al said, ruefully. "I wouldn't want to be the reason Winry finally finished you off. It's good that's settled."
"What are you doing in Amestris, Al?" Ed smiled, still holding the receiver in both hands. "Don't tell me you just felt like coming for a visit!"
"Not exactly," Al said. "We can talk about it when we get there, okay?"
"Fine, if that's how you want it," Ed said. "Have a good trip, okay? I'll make sure that Winry has a pie waiting for you."
Al laughed, and Ed relished the sweetness of the sound. "We'll look forward to it, Brother. See you soon."
"See you soon, Al," Ed said, and disconnected. He held the phone for a long moment, grinning like an idiot. To hell with getting work done, he thought. My baby brother's coming home!
Al made his way back to the departure area. Mei and the baby were waiting there with their luggage. Mei looked tired. Al knew from experience that taking the new train between Amestris and Xing was far nicer than the desert passage used to be. Still, it was a long, draining ride- especially with a six-month-old. Al sat down next to his wife. He took one of her hands in his and kissed it. "How are you?" he asked. "Would you like me to take Trisha for a while?"
Mei smiled. "She's asleep now, stupid man," she said. "She'll wake up if we move her." She leaned into him. "Did you talk with Edward?"
Al nodded, planting a kiss on the top of Mei's head. "He promised us apple pie."
Mei sighed happily. "It will be such a happy occasion, seeing everyone again. And Trisha will get to meet her other family!"
Al looked down at his daughter. She was wrapped tight against her mother's chest, and he could pretty much just see a thatch of fuzzy black hair and a nose where her face was squashed against Mei's breast. He smiled. Then he sighed.
"You are worried about something," Mei said. It wasn't a question.
"Am I?" Al evaded.
"I am too well-attuned to your qi not to be able to tell when it's roiled up," she said, "Especially when I'm right next to you. Why are you worried, Alphonse? The train will be here soon enough."
"I know," Al said, closing his eyes as he leaned against her. "It's just-" he paused. Really, there was no point in avoiding her question; on some level, she already knew the answer. "It's been so long since I saw Brother," he said, helplessly. "Five years since we last came to Amestris, and ten years since he and I were really together. Everything's changed so much for me in that time, and it must have changed for him, too. What if-" he frowned. "What if we're strangers now?"
Mei laughed at him. "You are being silly, and you know it. You and Edward will never be strangers to each other! He will be so very happy to see you, and you will be happy to see him. Stop worrying."
/Very well, my beloved wife,/ Al said, switching to Xingese, in the formal style. /You are wise, and I will heed your counsel./
/Of course I'm wise!/ she snapped, in the colloquial style. /And you are brave and kind and good, and your brother will never stop loving you./
He relaxed. Mei always knew what to say to calm him. /Thank you,/ he said, smiling.
/Shush,/ she told him. /You'll wake the baby./
Ed stood on the platform, waiting. The train hadn't even pulled up yet, but he couldn't bring himself to sit down. He'd been a ball of nervous energy since Al's phone call. Winry had eventually decided that he should go to the station to pick them up, and he should go alone, and he should go now.
"We'll all see them when they get to the house," she'd told him. "Now go, I have dinner to make, and I'm never going to get it finished if I've got you bothering me every five minutes!"
So now, he was standing on the platform, hands in his pockets, rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet. Finally, the train appeared in the distance. It's been so long since I saw him, Ed thought, nervously. We barely know each other anymore...
It seemed like it took forever for the train to pull up, slow, and stop. Ed waited with as much patience as he could muster, standing on the platform. Finally, the train stopped. Finally, the few passengers disembarked. And finally- finally- Ed saw his brother step from the train.
Al seemed taller than Ed remembered. Taller than Ed, certainly. He was dressed in Xingese clothes: a black-and-red high-necked tunic, loose, flowing pants. His hair was long now, and clasped at the nape of his neck. He looked tired, but happy. He turned to help Mei off the train, and she looked good too. Happy, healthy- with the bundle of a baby wrapped up against her body. Al's baby, Ed realized, his heart thudding in his chest. His brother's child. Ed's legs ate up the distance between him and them. "Alphonse!" he called. "Al!"
"Ed!" Al said, his face splitting open in a grin. "Brother!" Al dropped his suitcases to embrace Ed, and Ed wrapped his arms around Al, holding him as tight as he could.
"Dammit, Al," Ed said, grinning like a crazy person. He was pretty sure there were tears on his cheeks, but he didn't care. "Dammit, little brother, you've been away too long. I missed you."
"I missed you, too, Brother," Al said, and he was crying too.
Ed turned to Mei, who was looking very pleased with herself. He hugged her, too- carefully, so as not to squash the baby on her chest. "Hi, Mei," he said.
"It is very good to see you, Edward," she said to him, when he released her. "Alphonse has spoken of nothing but this reunion for the entire journey!"
Ed grinned. "Come on," he said, picking up their suitcases. "Winry and the kids are waiting to see you both."
Al and Mei were mobbed as soon as they got back to the Rockbell house. The kids wanted to see Uncle Alphonse, who they'd heard so many stories about. Winry wanted to see the baby, and she was fascinated by the way that Mei had the infant wrapped up on her body. Trisha was pretty cute, Ed had to admit. She woke up when Mei finally handed her over to him, her little eyes blinking sleepily.
"She's got Dad's eyes," he said, quietly.
"I know," Al said. "I'm glad. It feels like Xerxes isn't quite gone, if there are still people in the world with yellow eyes. I'm glad we won't be the last ones."
Ed smiled. "And you named her after mom," he said.
"Is that okay?" Al said, concerned. "I wasn't sure if you wanted to- but- you had Sara, and you named her after Winry's-"
"It's fine," Ed said, interrupting him. "It's perfect. She's so beautiful, Al."
Al smiled, and took his daughter back. "So are Sara and little Al," he said, looking down into Trisha's face. "It's amazing, isn't it?"
"A miracle," Ed agreed, putting an arm around his brother.
The food of his childhood seemed strange to him, now. It was simple fare, but it tasted too dry and too bland and too full of strange textures. Al knew without looking that Mei felt the same way. Still, he thanked Winry effusively, and wondered when he'd stop feeling like a stranger in his homeland. The pie, though- the pie was everything he remembered. It was flaky, and buttery, and sweet, and spicy. "It's delicious, Winry!" he said, his face lighting up with genuine delight.
"It is even more tasty than the last time we were here," Mei agreed.
"Thank Miss Gracia," Winry said, blushing at the praise. "She's the one who taught me."
Suddenly, his joy was too much to contain. Al leaned over and hugged her.
"What was that for?" Winry said, startled.
Al smiled. "You're so happy," he said, trying to put his feelings into words. "You and Brother. I can feel-" he stopped, unsure how to explain. "The Dragon's Pulse," he said. "I can feel the way that life flows between you all so easily. So happy!" He stopped, knowing that he wasn't making any sense. He ducked his head, embarrassed. "It makes me feel happy, too."
Winry looked stunned. "You can feel that?" she asked.
Mei grinned. "Everyone can feel it," she said. "Everyone's connected to it. It's knowing that you're feeling it that is the difficult part. But anyone would feel good being in your home right now, unless their qi was very twisted up. The flow of energy in your family is very beautiful!"
"Qi, huh?" Ed said, interested. "So you finally learned how to sense it?"
"Yeah," Al said, pleased with himself. "Mei was about to give up on me, but I finally got it. First, I had to get her to stop going like this at me all the time." he pointed his index fingers at his eyebrows in exaggerated imitation.
"That is a highly respected meditation technique!" Mei protested, swatting his arm. "Do not mock it!"
"Wow," Ed said. "How does it affect your alchemy?" he asked. Al watched him, looking for signs of... envy, maybe. Ed, after all, had been the famous, gifted alchemist once. Ed had given it all up for him, and Al still wasn't sure whether Ed might resent him a little for that, no matter how much he said he didn't.
"It's... complicated," Al said, a little nervously. "I'd like to show you. Maybe tomorrow?"
"Great," Ed said, nodding. "I'd love to discuss the theory with you."
Winry cleared her throat. "How long do you think you'll be staying, Al? At least a few weeks, I hope?"
Al grinned. "Forever," he said, into stunned silence.
"What?" Ed said, disbelief on his face. "You're leaving Xing? Nothing happened, right? You didn't offend Ling or anything?"
"Of course not," Mei said, sounding slightly offended. "We are still very much in his Imperial Majesty's favor."
"It was time to come home," Al said, enjoying the effect his surprise was having on the others. "I learned so much in the East. I thought it was time for me to start teaching it to others. I'm going to start a school, Brother."
"You're-" Ed started to say, and then stopped, shaking his head. "Really? You want to teach?"
Al looked over at his older brother. He looked so much like their father now, save for the beard. His eyes and his hair and his build were just the same. It was strange to see his brother as an adult, as a father, and as a husband. "I'd hoped-" he said, tentatively. "I'd thought that maybe you would help me."
Ed stared at him for a long moment. He ducked his head, his shoulders shaking. It took Al a few seconds to realize that he was laughing. Then, guffawing. Then slapping the table and wiping his eyes.
"You are so weird sometimes," Winry said, rolling her eyes at him.
"I'm sorry," Ed said. "It's just- you and Mustang, in the same week. It's too ridiculous."
Al was confused. "Colonel Mustang visited?" he asked.
"Prime Minister Mustang, now," Winry corrected.
Ed grinned. "No, I visited him. He offered me a job. That's why I'm laughing; all these years, and then you and Roy both offer me jobs in the same week."
"What job did he offer you, Brother?" Al asked.
"Minister of the Interior," Ed said, leaning back in his chair casually.
Al's eyes opened wide. "Brother," he said. "That's a really important position! Will you have to move to Central? I'd been thinking that the school should be in Central; maybe you could still teach a little, if you have time-"
"Hold on," Ed said, holding out a hand. "I never said I had accepted it."
"But-" Al started. Just then, Trisha started wailing. Mei jumped up to look after her. When Al looked back to Ed, he had a curiously thoughtful look on his face.
"Later," Ed said. "We can talk later, okay?"
They didn't talk that night, though. By the time all the children were in bed, he and Mei were nodding off where they stood, and Winry pushed them off to the guest room.
When Ed woke up the next morning, Al was the only one awake. He was sitting in the rocking chair in the living room, with Trisha asleep on his shoulder and the air of a man who's seen the sun come up. "Tea?" Ed offered as he shuffled into the room, yawning.
"If you don't mind, Brother," Al said, pleasantly.
Ed wandered into the kitchen and started the kettle. He rummaged around, found the teapot and the strainer, spooned the tea into it, and waited. Some time later, he emerged into the living room with two cups of the strong, sweet black tea that he and Winry favored for breakfasts. He handed one off to Al with no comment, and flopped himself onto the couch to sip his own cup.
"It seems funny to have tea with milk and sugar now," Al said, after a moment. "In Xing, they usually drink it plain. But they have so many more kinds."
"You're really going to miss it there, huh?" Ed asked, awkwardly.
"I will," Al said, smiling. "But I missed it here, too. I like milk and sugar in my tea!"
Ed drank his tea, watching his brother. Al rocked slowly in his chair, holding his daughter against his chest with one hand, and his tea with the other. He was wearing a loose, sleeveless shirt, and those billowy Xingese pants. His hair was ruffled, but still pulled back in a low ponytail. He and Al looked very similar, but Al's eyes were rounder than his, his face softer. Al took after their mother, Ed thought, struck by a sudden melancholy.
Al shifted. "Are you upset about something, Brother?" he asked, concerned.
Ed looked up, startled. He looked closely at Al. "Is this more of that Dragon's Pulse thing?" he asked. "It lets you sense emotions? Like last night."
Al shook his head. "It doesn't really work that way. Emotions are hard to sense, unless you know someone very well, and are physically close to them. Even then, you can't tell emotions, as much as you can tell..." Al paused, then waved his teacup around expressively. "Changes of state?" He said, uncertainly. "You can tell whether someone's energy is flowing smoothly, or if it's blocked up. But anger and shame and guilt and fear all pretty much look the same. When energy is flowing, that's usually happiness, but it could be excitement, or some kinds of anger, or..." Al blushed. "Or lust," he said, shrugging. "Anyway, sensing qiisn't a very good way to tell what someone is feeling. It's much more effective just to watch them. Or ask."
"Huh," Ed said, and sipped his tea. "Maybe I should get you to teach me how to do that, if you're really going to be around." He frowned. "Unless I can't," he said. "Maybe destroying my Gate blocked that off, too."
Al looked thoughtful. "I don't think so," he said. "In Xing, the royal family are all taught how to sense the Dragon's Pulse, and most of them never learn alkahestry. Alchemy is manipulation, but the Dragon's Pulse is just..." he waved his teacup around again. "Learning to feel what you're already connected to? And you still have qi, and you're definitely connected to the world's flow of energy."
Ed nodded, and looked down at his cup. "Good to know," he said.
Both of them sipped tea in silence for a few minutes. Finally, Al spoke. "Does that mean you are upset, Brother?"
Ed looked up. "What do you mean?"
Al's teacup was empty now. He held it loosely on his knee. "I asked if you were upset, and you assumed that I could sense your feelings through your qi. Which means that you must have been having upset feelings to begin with."
Ed shrugged. There was an uncomfortable silence. "I was thinking-" he said, finally. "I was thinking about how much you look like Mom."
Al smiled then, his eyes shining. "I was afraid to come back," he said, quietly. "I thought... you and I might be strangers now. I was afraid that I had lost you, by staying away so long." There were tears in Al's eyes. Ed set his teacup down, and got to his feet.
"Al-" he started to say.
"And it's partly true," Al continued, looking earnestly up at Ed. "So much has happened! I don't know your life now, and you don't know mine."
"But we're not strangers," Ed said, setting Al's teacup aside. He took Al's hand in his. "We're still brothers."
"Yes," Al said, his eyes wide with emotion. He gripped Ed's hand firmly. "Still brothers."
"I'd like to know more about your life in Xing," Ed offered. "We have to get to know each other again."
Al smiled. "I want to show you what I learned to do there," he said, intently. "After Mei wakes up."
"Okay," Ed said.
A few minutes later, Sara bounded into the room, followed by a half-asleep Winry. Ed made more tea while she cooked breakfast. Mei came downstairs a little while after that to feed a now-awake and hungry Trisha. She sat on the couch nursing the baby, and talking with Al and Winry, and occasionally a curious Sara who hadn't seen nursling babies much. As Ed left the room to go wake up little Al, Mei turned to Alphonse. Ed heard her quietly asked a question in Xingese. Al responded, and then Mei told him something else, laughing. Al turned red.
Ed stopped. "What did you say?" Ed asked her, curious.
Mei blushed, as if caught out. "I asked him whether he had had a good conversation with you this morning," Mei said.
"Then she said 'I told you so'," Al said sheepishly.
"I did tell you so!" Mei declared. "You and Edward could never grow apart from each other."
"Ed and Al?" Winry put in, incredulously. "What a dumb idea."
"Our men can be very stupid sometimes," Mei agreed.
"Breakfast is ready," Winry said, smiling.
After breakfast, Ed suggested that he and Al spar. "I've missed having a sparring partner," he said, grinning. "You're probably going to kick my ass; I'm out of shape."
"Brother," Al pointed out serenely, "I always kicked your ass." And he was going to do it again, almost certainly. Al didn't know what Ed had been doing for the last ten years, but Al had been in training constantly for years now. Also (and he didn't intend to tell Ed this), Xing was a dangerous place. Members of the royal family had to be constantly on guard for assassination attempts. Al and Mei hadn't had to deal with many, but three times in the last five years was still enough to give him a certain focus when it came to his combat training. Still, he cautioned himself against overconfidence. He knew better than to underestimate Edward Elric in a fight.
They faced off on the field out in front of the house. Mei and Winry and Ed's kids decided that this was a spectator sport, and took up positions on the porch to watch. Al looked over at his older brother. He'd braided his hair back, just as he used to do when they were kids. He was also wearing a black t-shirt, black pants, and heavy boots- Ed's favorite combat uniform. It hurt a little, remembering his brother fighting those never-ending battles. Al was grateful that that time was over; that Ed now had the luxury of not being in fighting form. Ed had fought so hard, so desperately in his childhood. It was good that he had found peace as an adult.
"Ready, Brother?" Al called.
Ed didn't answer, but launched himself into a flying kick at Al's torso. Al took the hit, and used the force of the blow to propel himself backward into a flip and kick at Ed. They traded blows then, each trying to take the measure of the other. Ed was still fast. It had always been Ed's biggest advantage, when they'd sparred as kids. He might not have been training aggressively, but he'd obviously kept in shape. Al fought defensively, considering Ed's moves. Patience had always been his biggest advantage. The next time Ed lunged for a kick, he made his real attack. Al waited until the kick was about to connect, stepped forward, and used Ed's own momentum to slam him to the ground. Ed hit the dirt face-first. Al waited for him to get up, but he lay unmoving, his arms splayed limply on the ground.
"Brother?" Al said, alarmed. He ran to his brother, hearing Winry gasp in fear behind him. Al knelt down, and gently turned Ed over onto his back. As Ed's face came into view, Al saw those golden eyes open, alert, and viciously smug. That was all the warning he got before Ed punched him in the face and then kicked him in the gut with both feet. Al dropped, reeling, as Ed jumped to his feet with a wild grin on his face.
That was when Al remembered Ed's other advantage in a fight: he was willing to use any dirty trick in the book to win. "Brother!" Al snapped, annoyed, and dropped flat as Ed aimed a kick at his head. Al tensed, and flipped into the air, flying over Ed's head. The flabbergasted look on Ed's face was worth every long month he'd had to spend learning that move. He landed behind Ed and spun into a kick. Ed rolled with it and came back punching- too late. Al grabbed Ed's arm, twisted, and used the force of Ed's attack to push him down into a lock. They came to rest with both Ed's arms twisted back and Ed forced to his knees. Al held him there for a long, pointed moment.
"Yeah, yeah," Ed said, panting. "You win. Damn, but you've gotten better at this."
Al released him. Ed stood up, grinning like a maniac. Two seconds later, a gleaming silver object flew threw the air and smacked into his forehead. "Winry!" he shouted. "What the hell?"
"Don't scare us like that!" she shouted back at him, glaring. "The children were watching, you idiot! Do you want to give them nightmares?"
"Alphonse!" Mei called, wailing. "Look at your face!" Al couldn't stop smiling all of a sudden, black eye or no black eye.
"I knew you'd win," Ed said to Al, clutching his head where Winry'd hit him. He was smiling, too. "I could never beat you when we were kids."
"Except that one time," Al said, quietly, remembering a hospital roof, and an injured Ed beating some sense into him.
"Yeah," Ed said, laughing. "Except that one time."
It was afternoon by the time both brothers had had their wounds treated, gotten washed up, and gotten changed into regular clothes. Or at least Ed had gotten changed into regular clothes. He was wearing a shirt and vest. Al, on the other hand, was wearing a Xingese tunic made of gold fabric with black dragons embroidered all over it.
"You look like Ling," he told Al.
"Really?" Al said, mock-surprised. "I don't think I look anything like him, personally. I'm blond, for one."
Ed rolled his eyes. "If you're back, are you going to buy some Amestrian clothes? You look weird in those."
Al shrugged, smiling. "I like them," he said. "The fabric is beautiful. Besides, Brother, I thought you appreciated bright colors in clothing."
"Are you sure?" Ed heard Mei say. She was looking worriedly over at Winry as they walked into the living room.
"Mei!" Winry said, laughing, "She's asleep now, and she can't possibly starve in a couple of hours. Go! We'll take care of her!"
"Very well," Mei said, dubiously.
"Yes," Winry said, cheerfully. "And Mei- it's okay. I was exactly the same, the first time I left little Al."
The three of them walked out of the house. Ed waved to Winry as they walked away, and Mei and Al held hands as they walked. "Where are we going?" Ed asked. Al had been vague about what they were doing now, just saying that he wanted to show Ed 'what he'd learned in Xing.'
"The creek," Al said, thoughtfully. "I think that will be a good place."
"The suspense is killing me," Ed said. Al just smiled happily, and said nothing.
They reached the creek. It was small, not much water and no more than a few inches deep. The banks were rocky. Scattered here and there under the leaves and grass were irregular shapes- the leftover transmutations of his and Al's childhood experiments. Al stopped, looking back at him and Mei. "Wait here," he said, and stepped into the creek. He perched himself on a wide, flat stone poking up from the water. Al lifted up his face to the sun. It glowed on his skin, his hair, the luminescence of his clothing. Ed's breath hitched in his chest. Twelve years, he thought, and seeing his face still seems like a miracle.
Al turned back to where he and Mei were standing. "Watch this, Brother!" he called, grinning. With that, his expression turned suddenly serious. His body straightened, and he put his hands together in the transmutation pose. He held the pose for a long moment. Ed expected him to drop to the ground, to activate the transmutation, but he didn't. Instead he shifted into a series of poses. They looked like the combat stances that Teacher'd taught them- or maybe some weird, elaborate form of dancing.
"He is directing the flow of energy," Mei explained, her voice muted. "The movements are unnecessary, technically, but they help him focus his mind."
Al flowed back into the transmutation posed and dropped his head. There was a cracking noise. Ed turned to see blue lightning coming from the banks of the creek. It was almost a mile away, but coming toward them fast. As he watched, the rocky ground transmuted itself into vicious stone spikes. As the spikes formed, they glowed and transmuted into glass, vivid with the colors of whatever trace elements were present in the native dirt. Ed flinched, wanting to run as the transmutation rushed toward him, but Mei put a hand on his arm. "Stay still," she said, and indeed, as the transmutation washed over the ground where they stood, it missed them entirely. There was a column in a foot radius around him and Mei where the transmutation didn't touch at all. Still, the spikes came up to Ed's chest. He looked over at Al. Al glanced at the water, and then the creekbed cracked with lightning, too. Clear glass balls sprouted on stalks for the length of his transmutation. Ed stared at them, suddenly realizing that each glass ball contained a fish, flopping and swimming around. The sun sparkled and flashed off of the spikes, throwing rainbows into the air. It looked like something out of a fairy tale.
Al turned to him then, grinning as if to say pretty good, huh, Brother?
"Holy crap, Al," Ed said. Al laughed. "Long distance transmutation- is that how they do alchemy in Xing?"
"No," Mei said, with a note of pride in her voice. "Alphonse is the one who invented this."
"Alkahestry uses knives as anchor points to direct the alchemic energy," Al explained. "But in Amestris, our alchemy makes use of the energy under the Earth's crust-"
"-Which means that you're using the pathways of energy under the earth to direct your transmutations, and yourself as a remote anchor for the array!" Ed finished. He stopped, startled. "You could do this blind," he said. "What kind of distance can you get? This is-"
"Yeah," Al said, smiling. He turned, stretched out his hand, and with an almighty crackling of blue light, the spikes and balls collapsed, reverting into their old shapes. The fish swam on.
"The fish," Ed said, realizing. "You could sense them. You could do that with people, you could-" Ed's stomach clenched, thinking about what Al could do on a battlefield. "Al," he said, horror in his voice. "You want to teach this to other people?"
Al stepped out of the creekbed and towards Ed and Mei. "I know," he said quietly. "I realized that. But I thought-" he paused. "I thought if I were the teacher, I might be able to influence how my students use it. With all this new trade with Xing, I think it's a matter of time before some other Amestrian alchemist learns how to do it, and if it's a member of the military..." he trailed off. "And this way, if I teach everyone who wants to learn, then everyone knows. And it can be used not just as a weapon." He looked up at Ed, his gold eyes wide. "That's why I wanted to ask you to help me teach," he told his brother. "You might not be able to do alchemy, but you know more than anyone about what alchemy costs."
"We have to tell Mustang about this," Ed breathed, staring straight ahead. "He has to know. If the military finds out first, then they'll try to stop you."
"Can they do that, Brother?" Al looked concerned.
"They could try to claim that your alchemy is a secret that's vital to national security," Ed said. "Al-" he said, then stopped. He didn't know quite what to say. He thought of his brother chained to the military, and it made him hurt. "Al," he said again, "That was amazing."
Al's face shone. "Thank you, Brother," he said.
They took the long road back to the house. When Al and Mei had visited before, Ed and Winry had still been living in Rush Valley. Mei had never seen the place that the Elric brothers had grown up in. They showed her the town, and the farms around their houses. At the end, they took her up to see the ashes of their old house. They stood, looking solemnly at the overgrown ruins.
"Brother," Al said, quietly. "We were thinking of building the school in Central, but I wanted to have a house in Resembool, too. Would it be okay-" He stopped. "Could we-"
"You want to build a house here," Ed said. His face was impassive; difficult to read.
"Yes," Al said, nodding. "We still own the land, and it just seems like... enough time has passed. We should make something new, here."
Ed smiled. "You're right, Al." He turned, his smile becoming a grin. "I'd offer to help you build, but I know you can do it yourself a hell of a lot easier."
"Yeah," Al acknowleged, smiling. "Thanks, Brother."
"Don't thank me," Ed said, punching Al's arm. "It's your house as much as mine. And you're right, anyway. We burned it so that we'd keep moving forward, so we wouldn't have to keep looking at our own mistakes. All that's a long way behind us now. Time to build something new."
Mei smiled at both of them, tears running down her cheeks. "That's so beautiful!" she said.
Ed flushed. Alphonse laughed. "Thank you," he said to Mei.
That night, Ed sat and watched Winry get ready for bed. She changed into loose shorts and a t-shirt. Ed appreciated the curve of her body, the flush of her creamy skin. She unbound her hair, shaking it out with pleasure. Then, she climbed into bed with him, running her hands through his hair. "Hi," she said, smiling, settling herself along the length of his body.
He laughed, and kissed her. She growled, pulling him closer, making the kiss into the promise of something more. He stopped suddenly, breaking the connection, resting his forehead against hers. "Winry-" he started.
"What's wrong, Ed?" she said, concerned. She pulled back, looking intently at his face.
"Dammit, Winry," he said, closing his eyes, and leaning back into his pillow. "I think I have to take Mustang up on his offer."
"His offer?" Winry said, concerned. "The job? Why, Ed? I thought you had decided-"
"It's Al," Ed said plaintively, sitting up. He pulled his knees up and leaned over them. "He showed me his new alchemy today."
"I know," Winry said. "I was wondering why I hadn't heard about it."
"It's amazing," Ed said, frankly. "And it would make him a human weapon like there's never been before. If he wanted to, he could slaughter thousands of people and he'd never even have to lift a finger."
"Al would never-" Winry started.
"Of course not!" Ed said, hotly. "But the military? With Drachma and Aerugo breathing down our necks, and with the East still riled up, and with the food riots in the West? They'd jump at the opportunity, and they'd never even consider what it would mean for Al! They could destroy him, Winry!" He could hear the fear in his own voice.
"They can't force him to become a soldier," Winry said.
"Like hell they can't," Ed growled. "All they'd need is a good enough hostage."
"Mei," Winry whispered.
"Trisha," Ed spat.
"The military isn't all bad," Winry protested. "Some of our friends are still in it."
"I know," Ed said. "But not everyone at the top is our friend. Besides, can you really say that General Armstrong wouldn't do what she had to if she thought Al could save her soldiers? Hell, maybe she'd even convince him that he should go along with it."
"Is his alchemy really that dangerous?" Winry asked, earnestly. "It can't be that much worse than Roy's, or Alex's."
"He can do long-range alchemy," Ed said, dread a lead weight in his stomach. "Miles away. He doesn't even need to see his target, because he can sense life force. He could walk up to a city and skewer every living person in their sleep without ever getting near enough for them to see his face."
Winry didn't say anything, then.
"I didn't want to take you away from your work," Ed said, the words choking in his throat. "I didn't want to uproot the kids."
"Ed," she said, soothingly. "I told you before- I've had all these years now to build up the Rockbell name. It's been hard work, and you've supported me. If you want this, then how could I not support you, too?"
"I don't want it," he said, quietly. "I want to be here with you and the kids. I want our life to stay like it's been."
"But because of Al..." she said.
"Roy's offer," he said, nodding. "It means a lot of power. I could make Al part of the government on the civil side, and then the military would have to keep their damned hands off of him. I could protect him, Winry."
Winry pulled him down, embraced him. "Ed," she said. "If you were the sort of man who could walk away from his brother, I would never have fallen for you. If you need to do this, you know that I'll be right by your side."
Ed breathed for a long moment. "Then I have to do it," he said, finally.
Winry nodded, holding him close. She leaned up, kissing him fiercely. "I'm afraid," she breathed into his ear, when the kiss ended.
"Me too," he murmured into her hair, not letting her go.
Ed woke up early the next morning. He was putting on his coat when he realized that he wasn't alone.
"Good morning, Brother," Al said. He was standing in the living room, rocking a sleepy Trisha on his shoulder. "Are you going out?" he asked.
"I'm catching the train to Central," Ed admitted. "I should be back tomorrow morning, though."
Al looked concerned. "Did Mr. Mustang call? Is there something wrong?"
Ed sighed, leaning back on the wall. "I'm going to accept his job offer."
"Minister of the Interior?" Al asked. "Wow, Ed."
Ed tamped down his unhappiness. "Yeah. Wow."
Al's eyes narrowed. "Why now?" he asked. "We just got here. Couldn't you call, and go out there later?"
Ed paused. Part of him wanted to lie to Al, to tell him not to worry and then just leave. "I have to talk to Mustang about your alchemy, and I don't trust the phone," he said. "If the military finds out what you can do, there could be problems."
"Is that why you're taking that job, Brother?" Al frowned, holding Trisha close.
Ed smiled. "Hey, the money and power don't hurt, either," he said, his face bright. "I've gotta go, Al. I've got a train to catch."
As he left, he could hear Al behind him. "But you don't care about money and power," he said, softly.
Roy Mustang, Prime Minister of Amestris, settled himself down for an afternoon nap. By some miracle, he'd gotten twenty minutes of unscheduled time. He'd told his secretary (a wonderful woman named Ellen) that he didn't want to be disturbed, he'd turned out the lights, and he was leaning back in his extremely comfortable chair with his feet on the desk. He was showing every sign of drifting off into a pleasant dream about Riza and a hot tub, when he heard the voice.
"I don't care whether he's busy or not," it said. "I came all the way from Resembool this morning, and the bastard can damn well see me."
Roy groaned. He hit the button on his intercom. "Send him in, Ellen," he said, trying hard not to think about how Ed had gotten past his security.
Ed breezed into the room. He was wearing a dress shirt and a vest, plus his traveling coat. Roy knew that this counted as dressed-up by Ed's standards, and he was curious as to why he'd bothered. "Hello, Fullmetal," Roy said, coolly.
"Yes," Ed said, baring his teeth.
"Excuse me?" Roy said, politely.
"You heard me, you bastard," Ed said, gritting his teeth. "You wanted me, you got me. Yes."
"Ah," Roy said, suppressing a smile. "Er-" he said, delicately. "Good. But, do you mind my asking... why? I had intelligence that you intended to decline the offer."
Ed rolled his eyes. "By which you mean 'my wife talked to your wife, Fullmetal'," he said, doing what Roy had to admit was a passable Mustang impression.
"Well, yes," Roy said, smiling. "The question still stands."
Ed sat silently in the chair. He looked tense, preoccupied.
"Nothing's happened to Winry or the kids, has it?" Roy asked, with a sudden rush of fear. "Ed, if it's just that you need money-"
"No," Ed said, brushing away that possibility with a wave of his hand. "Roy-" he said, "Did you know that Al's come back from Xing?"
"I knew he crossed the border," Roy said, cautiously. "Is he staying, then?" He clenched a hand, willing himself to be calm, not to speculate about what might be wrong with the younger Elric brother.
Ed frowned. "Yeah," he said. "He's home to stay."
Ed was being very difficult to read. Usually, Ed was an open book. He wore his heart on his sleeve. He knew it, though, and there were times that he could be cagey, too. "Isn't that good news?" Roy asked.
"Yeah, it is," Ed said. He jumped to his feet, pacing the room. "How's your office for bugs, Mustang?"
"No one listens in on my meetings, Fullmetal," Roy said, stiffly.
Ed pulled a piece of chalk out of his pocket. Before Roy realized what he was doing, Ed leaned down and sketched a transmutation circle on Roy's desk. "Activate it," Ed said.
Roy looked over at the circle. He didn't immediately recognize it. Something to do with sound, maybe, but-
"Just do it, Mustang," Ed said, irritated. "You don't know what it is because I made it up myself. But I can't activate it, so you have to. Do it."
Roy reached out, touched the circle. Lightning flashed. There was a low, almost sub-audible boom, and the windows shook. "If there were any bugs," Ed said, "There aren't now."
"I think you've destroyed my intercom," Roy observed.
"Whatever," Ed said, almost nastily.
"Ed," Roy said, quietly, "What the hell is going on? Calm down, please. Whatever's happening here, I'm not your enemy."
Ed sat down hard in the chair again. He leaned forward, covering his face with his hands. "Sorry," he said. He was quiet for a long moment, and Roy let him gather himself. "Al's been studying in Xing," he said, finally. "Yesterday, he showed me what he learned."
Roy wasn't sure what to make of that. Surely, Ed wasn't jealous of his brother. "What did he show you?" Roy asked, neutrally.
Ed's mouth twisted. "He can transmute from at least a mile away without having to use alkahestry blades first. He barely even has to touch anything to do it. Plus, he's incorporated the life sense that Ling and Lan Fan and Mei had. I saw him pull out every fish from a mile-long stretch of river with a wave of his hand."
Roy absorbed that, thought about the possibilities. His eyes widened. "Does he know-" he got out, his voice strangled.
"Yeah," Ed said. "Basically, I think. I mean, I don't know how much Al even understands about that kind of thing. He wants to start a school."
Roy choked. "He wants to teach others how to do that?" he asked.
"He figures that it's just a matter of time before someone else goes to Xing and figures it out. This way, he'll have some say in who learns and how they do it. Plus, it won't just be military alchemists."
Roy's mind reeled, putting the pieces together. "You want to make his school a pet project of the Ministry of the Interior," he said. It wasn't a question. He'd known that Ed didn't want to work for the government when he'd offered him the position. He should have realized that this would be the only real motivator for Edward Elric: the well-being of someone he loved. The well-being of his little brother.
"It's my price, Mustang," Ed said, firmly. "You want me on your cabinet? Fine. I was the government's dog before, and I'll do it again. Just give me the power to protect my brother from the military assholes who are going to come after him."
I'm not your enemy, Roy repeated, silently. "Accepted," he said. "I'll not only agree to that, I'll back the project myself. We'll need to give it a little time, and I'll need to discuss this with Alphonse, of course-"
"Of course," Ed said, drily.
"When do you want to start? Are Winry and the kids staying in Resembool, Ed?" Roy felt a twinge of remorse about that. Ed and Winry were happy, and he knew that this would change everything.
Ed shook his head. "No," he said. "We'll all be moving up to Central. Give me a week, and then I'll bring Al up. We can find somewhere to live then."
Roy nodded. "We'll do the official announcements then," he said. "There'll be press, of course. You're still a minor celebrity, so we can expect there to be a bit of a circus."
Ed shrugged. He looked tired. "Yeah, yeah," he said. "Whatever. I'll deal with it."
"Do you need someplace to stay tonight?" Roy offered. "You know you're welcome to stay with us."
Ed shook his head. "I'm getting the late train back to Resembool," he said.
"Dinner, then," Roy said. "I'll cook."
"Okay," Ed said. "It's the least you can do, you old bastard," he added, not quite under his breath.
When the train pulled into Resembool station, it was grey out. The sun was just beginning to streak the sky with pink. Ed stepped off the train with his bag slung over his shoulder. He didn't expect there to be anyone to meet him, not at this hour. So he was surprised to see Al, standing on the platform. He was wearing a plain, cotton Xingese jacket, his hands shoved loosely into the pockets. "Hello, Brother," he said.
"Morning, Al," Ed said. "Did you have a good day with Winry yesterday?" he asked. "Sorry about running out like that." They started walking down the road. It wasn't that long a walk, so Ed didn't mind that he hadn't brought the car.
"We had a good day," Al said. "We took Al and Sara down to the pond to swim. There were fireflies when it got dark."
Ed smiled. "They love that pond."
"So did we," Al said.
They walked in silence for a long moment. "I talked to Winry," Al continued, finally. "Brother!" he said, his eyes wide with emotion. "I didn't come back to ruin everything for you. I've only been back a few days, and already you're changing your whole life around."
"Am I wrong?" Ed countered, shifting the weight of his bag. "Winry must have explained. Is there anything I got wrong?"
Al sighed. "No," he said. "But, Brother- you don't have to keep fighting my battles for me. I can deal with this on my own."
"I'm not fighting your battles for you, Al. I couldn't do that even if I wanted to." He stopped, looking Al in the eyes. "I don't want to fight for you, Al. I want to fight at your side." Al looked back at him, emotion plain on his face. Ed looked away, running a hand through his bangs. "I told Mustang to give us a week. Then you and I will go to Central and discuss our options. Sound good?"
Al nodded. They walked in silence for a while. The air was cool and wet with the morning dew, and birds were singing in the trees.
"I'm sorry," Al said, suddenly. "This is my fault."
Ed laughed, and it was long, and low, and full of joy. "Al," he said. "You're home. You're finally home, and I don't give a damn about the rest of it."
Al looked at him sharply, and then his face dissolved into a smile. "I'm glad to be back, Brother," he said, quietly.
"Yeah," Ed said. "Me, too."
A/N: I started writing this to write some happy, post-canon Ed&Al fluff. I took the idea of Al having been living in Xing and ran with it. This story is a bit near and dear to my heart: my little sister lives and works abroad in an important government job, so I know just how Ed feels here.
All of a sudden, at the end, it started to get plotty without my quite intending it to. I expect I'll probably continue this; I sort of wonder what's going to happen to everyone.