His memories of his father are distant, faded things, kept alive only by a handful of photographs and his mother’s words, when your father comes home. More immediate is his brother, always by his side, always close enough to touch.
At night, long after the skies go dark, the smell of the sun is caught in his brother’s hair. He doesn’t need a stuffed animal, or a security blanket, as long as he has that.
Some part of Alphonse Elric wishes for his father, to end his mother’s sadness. But with his brother there, he cannot wish for anything else.
Adjusting is the most difficult part. He learns to be conscious of every step, every gesture: it’s learning to walk all over again. Al hates it, how giant he’s become, the feeling that he’s grown too fast. Strangers see him as an adult now, when all he feels like is a frightened little boy.
Only his brother recognizes him anymore, and tries to protect him from this unfamiliar new world. His brother becomes his guardian, his shield, the only link he has to the boy he was.
For that, Al knows, he will do everything to keep his brother safe.
Doubting hurts like a physical thing, curled in a gut he no longer has. He doesn’t want to think Ed would lie to him, but his memories are already faded, and it’s hard to say what’s real and what isn’t, now. He feels like his reflection in the mirror, fragmented beyond control.
“I want to know that the human called Alphonse Elric really existed.”
But he can’t look his brother in the eye and ask that — he’s afraid of the truth, whatever it might be. So he retreats, and tries to put the pieces together, as best he possibly can.
He can no longer smile, but somewhere in the place where his heart should be, he feels light, relieved. As children, fighting with his brother was always worse than fighting with Winry, or any of their other friends; now, the world is restored to balance.
“He was afraid you’d blame him” — the words are both a relief and a pain, because this is not all his brother’s fault, though Ed selfishly takes the blame himself.
But he is himself, the son of Hoenheim and Trisha, the brother of Edward, and there is no doubt that can take that away again.
Seeing his father again is not what he expected. His mother is long dead, and cannot be part of this reunion, and his brother sulks, angry and betrayed.
Al wants to find connection to the man who seems so very much like his brother, and finds the distance awkward, the ground shaky.
It’s almost something of a relief when his father leaves again. He’s too accustomed to his brother, and even the promise of his father’s presence can quite break their strange bond of brotherhood. Ed is his anchor, more than anything else.
Even if they can no longer touch.
He can almost fool himself into thinking he feels warmth, through his gloves and hollow metal body. When he pulls his hand away, he sees that some of Ed’s red blood is on his thumb, and he thinks he can feel that too, warm and thick.
There is something still there, some spark and brilliance that still clings to this fragile shell. Al can feel that, at least, though it’s fading fast.
I’ll give you my arms, he thinks; I’ll give you my legs.
I’ll give you my heart.
But he’s the only brother I have, so
He’s not sure when it all starts coming back: the years, the memories, the pain. He knows that he wakes one morning acutely missing the feel of his brother’s wiry strength; the bed is too large.
Winry catches him crying and says nothing, holding him close and stroking his hair. He sobs himself out, and then rests his head over her heart, counting the beats. She smells of machine oil and manmade heat, and very distantly, of fields touched by the sun. Her arms are thin, but very strong, and they hold him carefully.
It’s not the same, he thinks.
At first, he doesn’t know the stranger who has his brother’s golden eyes and hair. At first, he’s just a cautious stranger who is almost familiar, and whom Al doesn’t quite trust.
But he’s still gentle, and he still smells like the sun, even when it’s overlaid by the tang of steel. Some traitorous part of him recognizes that, and reaches for it. In spite of himself, he opens his arms, and waits for Ed to step into their circle.
It feels oddly like coming home. Ed is full of wiry, unfamiliar strength, which shakes, then relaxes.
“Brother,” says Al.
Al is the first one to kiss his brother. He knows this by the way Ed jerks back, surprised, and rubs the back of his hand across his mouth.
“Al,” Ed says, shocked. “This isn’t–”
But it is, Al thinks, and grabs Ed’s arm before it can lash out. “Brother,” he says, and waits. He can see confusion move across Ed’s face, and even a little fear.
“You can’t kill me,” Al says gently. “I’m not going anywhere. I never have, have I?”
Ed’s eyes round at that, and he stares. “Al,” he says, softly.
And Al kisses him again.
He thinks there must be something shameful in this, in reveling at the feel of skin that is and is not his. There must be something wrong in knowing the taste of his brother’s skin, that touching his brother with such knowing hands is a sin greater than human alchemy.
Right now, the public thinks they’re heroes, but that could change at any moment. He knows too well.
And then his brother says his name, drowsy and content, and he lays his own head down to listen to his brother’s heartbeat, and he knows this can only be love.