Warning: Spoilers through the ending of the series. Some hints of Ed/Al, and Ed/Al/Winry.

Absolution

They transfer to a proper hospital after two days of camping out in the makeshift tents, because it's too early to move some of the injured, and too late for others: hours after the battle, military cars come to take away the body of King Bradley while Mustang, bandaged all over, stands and listens to Hawkeye's steady commentary. He almost refuses to go to the hospital, and Hawkeye must convince him again not to be stubborn, that he needs to have better faith in his subordinates because if they can't manage this without him, what good are they at all? Ed hears the argument from his bed, where he's lying with his arms crossed beneath his head. He finds himself doing stupid things with his right arm, like pushing both sets of fingers against his knuckles, just because he can. Like poking his own shoulder, or reaching out, gently, to brush at Al's hair, strewn across his pillow, inches away.

"I felt that," Al says, turning his head over to smile at him. Al relishes the feel, Ed knows; the sensation of hair, of knowing when someone is touching him. One of the paramedics presented him with a light-blue medical gown yesterday and Ed had helped him into it, carefully, eyes fixed on the sharp jutting of Al's ribs against his skin. "Yeah?"

Ed swallows. "Al, thanks,"

"You've already thanked me four times." Al shuts his eyes. "Then again, you must have called me an idiot thirty times now, so it's okay."

"Because you are," Ed answers, pulling back his arm to lace his fingers behind his head again. "You're not supposed to scare the shit out of people when they're in the middle of a crucial battle, you know."

In reply, Al sighs softly, and Ed realizes he's slipped into sleep again, too many years of not resting, wide awake in an empty world, finally catching up with him. Well, he thinks, and goes back to sleep himself.

When the ambulances come with stretchers and Mustang issues an order that everyone present in the last battle needs treatment or at least clearance from the doctor, Ed finds himself scooping Al up. Personally. He's worried about people touching him, breaking him. Al's embarrassed protest goes entirely unheeded as he pulls the two of them into the ambulance, one arm cradling Al's back and the other fixed beneath his knees.

"I'm going to be fine," Al tells him, while Ed sets him down on the cot and slides into a seat against the heavily tinted windows.

"Yeah, of course," Ed answers, while somebody shut the doors of the ambulance. "I'll make sure of that."

xxx

Al says he likes the taste of food, but he can never eat much. Ed believes him, but feels uncomfortably like he's emulating Winry when he lifts up the spoon and says, "Just another mouthful," and Al shakes his head. He's slightly opposed to the spoonfeeding, but Ed knows that if he left Al to it he would take two mouthfuls and stop. It's not easy to regain an appetite, and although he's working on it, his body still often rejects the food.

"I can't," Al blurts out, closing his mouth right after the pronouncement so that Ed can't sneak the food in, like he did the day before.

"Look at you," Ed says before he can stop himself, feeling the surge of guilt while he takes in Al's bony wrists in front of him on the bed, the deep indentations of his collarbones below his throat. "You need nourishment. Come on, another mouthful."

Al sighs, opens his mouth, and Ed slides the spoon in. It's mostly porridge, but since the start of this week they started stirring in some meat – pork floss, ground beef. Al swallows it slowly. Ed returns the spoon to the bowl, still two-thirds full, and wonders how far he will push his luck today.

"Brother, you're still injured. You don't need to do this."

Ed waits, for what he realizes is the inevitable – I can take care of myself – and tries, in the span of a few seconds, to understand whythat makes him feel the way it does. Because Al has always taken care of himself, and Ed besides, and maybe that's why he's balancing a tray of food on his lap and wondering how on earth Auntie Pinako managed when he was bedridden and having a bad day. But Al doesn't say anything else, because he's watching his brother's face, so Ed blinks and looks at the ceiling.

"Would you eat some more if a pretty nurse fed you?"

"What?" Al's surprise is hilarious.

"What if it was May Chang?"

"Brother!"

"I'm kidding," Ed laughs. "If you have energy to protest, then you can eat another spoonful." He pushes it into Al's mouth before Al can disagree.

xxx

Ed watches Al learn to use his body again. They take walks together in the afternoon – long, slow circles around the hospital garden. Al is the first to admit he needs crutches. Ed wants to tell him not to push his muscles too hard, but he knows what this means to Al, too, so he does not comment further. His right arm, oddly enough, is in good form – he takes weights out sometimes, a special request from the hospital personnel, and uses them while walking next to Al.

"I never could understand why the house is so far from the station," Al says one afternoon, panting slightly as he sits down on a bench to rest. "Even when we get off the train it'll be some miles to go."

"What do you mean?" Ed asks. Because the statement seems to come out of nowhere, and as usual he's only been thinking about today, the same way he only thought about yesterday when it was yesterday.

Al smiles at him, like he's obviously playing dumb and Al knows it. "We're going home, right? As soon as we can take the journey back."

Ed recovers faster than he thinks he would. "Yeah, of course we are. Crazy," he adds, sliding next to Al. He tries not to act surprised when Al leans his head against Ed's shoulder, a habit he stopped when he couldn't anymore, when he became armor and bigger than either of them ever could be. Ed feels the soft pressure of Al's cheek against his shoulder, that right shoulder that he restored, and a whole list of feelings he can't name crawls up his chest, right up to his throat. He swallows.

"I want to see the expression Winry makes," Al says.

Ed wraps an arm around Al's shoulder, pulls him in closer, the best approximate of soothing he can do. Things are going to be all right now, he realizes. Actually, he can already imagine the expression Winry will make – anger, first and always, not the cutting kind he knows well, but the swift irritation of someone who loves you dearly and doesn't want to see you hurt, doing stupid things. Then she'll turn shocked, and she'll start to cry, and she'll be smiling and laughing and calling them idiots through her tears. They're similar like that, minus the crying part. It's Al who has always been different. Calm, methodical, earnest. But somehow, despite having no body, despite all the terrible things they'd gone through, still unbelievably tender.

"She'll just ramble about the state of my leg," Ed answers, and the two of them laugh.

xxx

Ed knew that Al knew, in that last battle, that he would come back for him, but that didn't stop Ed from wondering – what if he hadn't worked it out in time? What kind of gamble was that?

"But you came, right?" Al is completely unfazed, delicately eating his way through a bowl of porridge.

"Yeah, but still!"

"I knew you would." Al sips his water like it is tea; like this is the truest fact in the world. "I'm sorry," he says after a moment, "I just knew you'd think of something. I'm sorry about that." He hesitates, studies his hands, and Ed decides that it isn't what it's about. Losing alchemy is nothing over losing Al. That was never an option, just like using other people's lives – but he remembers the temptation, the panic, the way his chest tightened when Hohenheim offered himself and he thought I can't do this, we're running out of time.

He doesn't need it anymore. He doesn't need anything anymore. Just this – Al sitting in front of him, whole; peace in the city, the idea of things going back to the way they should be.

xxx

That doesn't stop him, of course, from occasionally putting his hands together and pressing them against the floor, or dreaming about pentagrams, his hands dusted with chalk (I didn't need them, he thinks, with surprise – it was that much a part of me). He can still feel the current of energy, if he tries; still recognize the sensation of pure joy at transmuting, creating, combining, before alchemy became just a job, then a means of life and death. He puts his hand against the iron bars of the hospital bed, the wooden floors, and he feels the potential humming beneath his skin, and remembers how everything else is alive, too.

There was nothing else he could have let go of. He repeats this to himself, with a small smile, as he lets his fingers run against the wall. There was nothing else that would have tipped the scale, no other sacrifice they would have accepted.

He can't let Al see. Al would be heartbroken – and he's not going to let that happen, because it isn't worth it. There are few things in Ed's life that are, and every time he comes back to his choices, he knows he made the right one.

xxx

Mustang returns to the base at Central after a week; he claims the doctors have properly discharged him, but Ed knows all they're doing is relocating his medical personnel somewhere more private. He still feels strange every time he sees Roy, and knows that Roy can't see him – his eyes gray and without focus as he picks up the sudden halt of Ed's feet on the concrete. Hawkeye notices and goes ahead of him, halting beside the doctor to discuss possible layouts for the makeshift infirmary they will put up next to his office.

"Fullmetal," Mustang says, turning to face precisely where Ed is standing.

Ed knows that Mustang will be all right, because he always is. Ed also knows he will rebuild this city with his own hands, and everything else he possibly can, because he's a workaholic that way. He may be a smug bastard, but he's never scrimped on his duties. Ed is one of the few who truly knows just how much Mustang actually cares.

"Take care of yourself," Ed calls out loudly. His voice is rough, the words more an admonishment than well-wishing, and Mustang smiles.

"I don't like the thought of owing you anything. You know where to find me, whenever we can repay the debt." He waves his hand and turns halfway back, before adding, "How is Alphonse?"

"I'm fine," Al answers, unexpectedly. He comes up behind Ed, crutches thumping evenly on the walkway.

Mustang looks thoughtful for a moment, then says, "Good. Well, I'm off."

"We'll visit," Al calls out after him, even if he doesn't need to.

Mustang halts just before the open car door and replies, surprising them all, "That would be nice."

xxx

Al regains his weight, his strength, his coordination. The days seem to be passing slowly, but it hasn't been too long, really, since he got his body back. That's all right. There's time. There's no need to rush. Ed works on his leg, squinting over the tools, remembering the clap of hands and the surge of power of a transmutation. He dreams about the delicate traceries of seals, how easily things could be made and destroyed, about the equations burned into the backs of his eyes. When he awakens he sees Al leaning over him, worry creasing the space between his brows. He blinks, and the anxiety clears from Al's face – he leans away even as Ed finds his fingers twitching to reach up, to stroke the gentle curve of Al's cheek. He has cheeks now, thank god, not just bones framing his face. Ed sighs and props himself upright.

"What's on today's schedule?"

"Actually –" Al begins, hesitates. "Will you cut my hair?" He smiles, a little sheepishly, and gathers it over to one side with his hands. "It's kind of too long."

"Sure," Ed replies. The past few weeks Al was tying it back, or sometimes when the nurses told them they needed to take it easy, Ed was bored enough to braid it, twisting the strands over each other, not really thinking about what it meant to feel Al's hair again, light-golden against his pale skin. When the nurse comes with their breakfast, Ed asks for a pair of scissors.

Al sits in front of the mirror while Ed does his work, snipping away carefully. There's no sound in the room for a few moments, just scissors sliding open and closed. There's a lot of hair to cut, to get to the length Al wants. Ed slips his fingers through Al's hair and lets his attention wander, until Al laughs and tells him to watch where he's putting those scissors.

"Sorry." He concentrates enough to finish, then looks in the mirror. Al is there, hair cropped against his neck, like how he was all those years ago, only older and more beautiful.

"Is something wrong?" Al asks, because he always knows. Ed doesn't know how. Being nice did that to you, probably.

Nothing is wrong. He'll get used to this, this overwhelming feeling of peace and joy – he's always been awful at adjusting, because of all the years he spent wondering how and when the world (life?) could be good to him again, if it ever would.

"Can I hug you?" He asks, before he can acknowledge the flushing of his face, the banging of his heart against his chest. Ed knows what it's like when things are too good to be true, how everything crumbles; how it's not easy to start fooling yourself again.

I need to make sure this is real.

I need to know I am not going to lose this again.

Al blinks once, then says, "Of course, brother. Did you really have to ask me that?" and Ed knows, if he wasn't Al, he would have been saying idiot, idiot, idiot. But this is Al, the one he knows and loves, and it only takes a moment for him to throw his arms around Al from behind, and bury his face in Al's hair, still holding the scissors. Al is warm and real, here, and he's never going to be gone. Al laughs as he spins his chair around, wrapping his arms around Ed, leaning to press against his chest.

"This time –" Ed can't admit his trembling, but the words tumble out in a whisper, paper-thin and quivering, "I'm not – I'm never – I won't let go."

"Yeah," Al answers. "I know."


A/N: I have to admit that I didn't actually watch Brotherhood - I only know the canon from the first FMA, then watched bits and pieces of Brotherhood, including the episodes leading up to the ending. It wasn't a lot to go on, but I wanted to squeeze a little more Elric love into the given ending. Comments and critique are always welcome!